Some board members defer to a CEO's judgment on what his or her own compensation should be. There's a good reason: Many boards are composed of current and former CEOs at other companies. And in some cases, board members are essentially hand-picked or at least vetted by the CEO. Not surprisingly, the boards' compensation committees offer generous bonuses.
5. Stricter scrutiny.
Even companies with vigilant boards and an emphasis on objectively assessing CEO performance might shower their chief executives with money. When a CEO faces more scrutiny and a greater chance of dismissal, the companies often raise pay to compensate for the risk of job loss, according to a 2005 article by Benjamin Hermalin, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley.
WHY MANY OF US AREN'T GETTING A RAISE
1. Blame the robots.
Millions of factory workers have lost their spots on assembly lines to machines. Offices need fewer secretaries and bookkeepers in the digital era.
Robots and computers are displacing jobs that involve routine tasks, according to research by David Autor, an economist at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. As these middle-income positions vanish, workers are struggling to find new occupations that pay as much. Some must settle for low-paying retail and food service jobs.
College tends to substantially improve people's earnings power compared with workers who have completed only high school. But even workers who have attended college have been hurt by the loss of middle-income jobs.
Nearly 45 percent of U.S. workers who earned less than $10.10 an hour last year had either attended college or had graduated, according to an analysis by John Schmitt, a senior economist at the liberal Center for Economic and Policy Research.
2. High unemployment.
The aftermath of the Great Recession left a glut of available workers. Businesses face less pressure to give meaningful raises when a ready supply of job seekers is available. They're less fearful that their best employees will defect to another employer.
The current 6.3 percent unemployment rate, down from 10 percent in October 2009, isn't so low that employers will spend more to hire and keep workers. Wages grew in the late 1990s when unemployment dipped to 4 percent, a level that made high-quality workers scarce and compelled businesses to raise pay.
Companies can cap wages by offshoring jobs to poorer countries, where workers on average earn less than the poorest Americans. Consider China. A typical Chinese factory employee made $1.74 an hour in 2009, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics — roughly a tenth of what their U.S. counterpart made.
Some analysts say this decades-long trend may have peaked. But many economists say the need for the United States to compete with a vast supply of cheap labor worldwide continues to exert a depressive effect on U.S. workers' pay.
4. Weaker unions.
Organized labor no longer commands the heft it once did. More than 20 percent of U.S. workers were unionized in 1983, compared with 11.3 percent last year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That has drastically reduced the unions' sphere of influence. Result: Fewer workers can collectively negotiate for raises.
5. Low inflation.
For the past five years, the government's standard inflation gauge, the consumer price index, has averaged an ultra-low 1.6 percent. When inflation is high, employees tend to factor it into requested pay raises. But when inflation is as low as it has been, it almost disappears as a factor in pay negotiations. Workers typically settle for less than if inflation were higher.