The Institute for Policy Studies in Washington recently released its 18th annual survey of executive compensation, aptly titled “Executive Excess.”

The report shows that 2009’s unconscionable 263-to-1 ratio between CEO pay and average worker pay in the U.S. grew to 325-to-1 last year. Companies generally are doing well. Their executives are doing extremely well. But the people whose labor creates the products are left behind.

The national situation described in the report is familiar to San Diego as well. Earlier this summer, local news outlets reported that average compensation for local executives rose 21 percent to $1.8 million (including salary, bonus, perks, stock options) in 2009. Workers’ pay rose less than 3 percent.

For years, the Center on Policy Initiatives has analyzed annual income and poverty data from the Census Bureau and reported that income inequality is increasing locally. The 2010 data will be released in three weeks and we expect the same story.

In San Diego County, unemployment has been around 10% for almost 2 years — which doesn’t indicate the other 90% is doing fine. For every person unemployed and still seeking work, another two are underemployed — perhaps working a few hours a week when they need full-time work to make ends meet. And many who still have jobs have lost wages or health benefits.

In 2009, nearly 700,000 residents of this county earned less than $50,000 a year for full-time work. Then there’s Paul Jacobs, CEO of Qualcomm. According to the Executive Pay Watch database, he earned over $1.1 million in salary alone last year, and more than $17 million when you add in his bonus, stock options and other benefits.

It takes 563 people earning the county’s median income to equal Paul Jacobs’s salary. At California minimum wage, 1,059 people have to work full-time to earn what Paul Jacobs does.

This deep inequality hurts us all. The result is higher poverty and an economy that can’t heal. In 2009, 12.6% of us in San Diego County were living in poverty — and nearly 1 in 5 of our children. What will the 2010 data show?

Every year, in cities, states and nationally, we fight over what services to cut. Do we lay off librarians and teachers, limit health care for children or the disabled, close fire stations? All these services are funded through taxes, on property and income. Our communities will thrive when we bring the unemployed and underpaid into the middle class, so they can pay their mortgages and their taxes.

The CEOs and profitable corporations can pay their taxes, but too often don’t. In one telling measure, the Institute for Policy Studies report showed that 25 of the 100 highest paid CEOs in U.S. took home more pay than their company paid in federal income taxes.

This Labor Day, commit to helping reverse the inequality and getting our economy working again. If a union member or other worker has a benefit or pay scale better than yours, don’t question why they deserve it. Ask why you don’t.

Corinne Wilson is the research and policy lead for the Center on Policy Initiatives.

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