NEW YORK — For the CEOs of America's biggest companies, the recession is more than over.
The CEOs were paid better in 2010 than they were in 2007, when the economy was booming and unemployment about half what it is today.
The typical pay package for the head of a company in the Standard & Poor's 500 was $9 million last year, according to an analysis by the Associated Press using data provided by Equilar, an executive compensation research firm. That was 24 percent higher than in 2009, reversing two years of declines.
Pay for workers, meanwhile, grew 3 percent in 2010, to an average of about $40,500. The average wage was less than one-half of one percent of what the typical CEO in the AP analysis made.
CEOs were rewarded by their boards because corporate profits soared in 2010 as the economy gradually got stronger and companies continued to cut costs. Profit for the companies in the AP analysis rose 41 percent last year.
Executives were showered with more pay of all types — salaries, bonuses, stock, options and perks. The biggest gains came in cash bonuses: Two-thirds of executives got a bigger one than they had in 2009, some more than three times as big.
The stock market also continued its climb. Stocks rose 13 percent in 2010 and have now almost doubled since March 2009. The market's two-year run has fattened executive bonuses because some CEOs are rewarded for how the company's stock does.
In addition, the bull market contributed enormous paper gains to the CEOs' stock and options grants.
The AP used the Equilar data to analyze CEO pay packages at 334 companies in the S&P 500 that had filed statements with federal regulators through April 29. Pay was analyzed at companies that had the same CEO in 2009 and 2010.
Among the other findings in the AP analysis:
* The highest-paid CEO in 2010 was Philippe Dauman of Viacom, the entertainment company that owns MTV, Nickelodeon and Paramount Pictures. He received a pay package valued at $84.5 million, two and a half times what he made the year before. He signed a contract in April 2010 that included stock and options valued by the company at $54.2 million when they were granted.
* Six of the 10 best-paid CEOs come from media or entertainment, industries helped by a recovery in advertising and innovations in digital distribution. Besides Dauman, they are Leslie Moonves of CBS, $56.9 million; David Zaslav of Discovery Communications, $42.6 million; Brian Roberts of Comcast, $31.1 million; Robert Iger of Walt Disney, $28 million; and Jeff Bewkes of Time Warner, $26.1 million.
* The 10 highest-paid CEOs made $440 million in 2010, a third more than the top 10 made in 2009. Four CEOs — Dauman, Moonves, Roberts and Ray Irani of Occidental Petroleum — were on the Top 10 list both years.
To calculate CEO pay, the AP adds an executive's salary, bonuses, perks, any interest on deferred pay that's above market interest rates, and the value a company places on stock and stock options awarded during the year.
The median pay value of $9 million, calculated by Equilar, is the midpoint of the companies used in the AP analysis; half of the CEOs made more and half made less.
In 2007, the median pay was $8.4 million. In 2008 it was $7.6 million, and in 2009 it was $7.2 million. The $9 million median for 2010 is the highest since the AP began the analysis in 2006.
For companies that the AP analyzed, revenue grew about 12 percent, according to data provider CapitalIQ. That helped lift earnings, as did companies' ability to hold down costs. Companies could limit raises for rank-and-file workers because of the weak labor market.
These CEOs typical cash bonus rose 39 percent to $2 million, according to Equilar.
Some critics of today's executive pay say boards should consider how much a CEO has accumulated over the years when they set the next year's pay.
"Boards need to recognize that many CEOs already have enough in terms of motivation and lifetime wealth," said Jesse Brill, chair of CompensationStandards.com and an expert on CEO pay. "It is very frustrating to see boards keep giving them more."
Their decisions will be watched closely by shareholders. Government rules passed last year require almost every public company to give investors a vote at least once every three years on what it pays its executives. The votes aren't binding, but they can draw unwanted attention to a CEO's pay.
So far this year, shareholders at 12 companies have voted against pay plans. That's because many institutional investors, such as mutual funds, tend to side with management.
But not always. In 2010, Stanley Black & Decker gave its CEO, John Lundgren, compensation of $32.6 million, including a one-time grant of 325,000 shares of stock valued at $18.7 million.
Institutional Shareholder Services, which advises large investors on how to vote on corporate matters, criticized Stanley Black & Decker for paying its executives better than competitors pay theirs and for its one-time stock awards.
Companies that get negative votes on their pay plans will have to disclose, in the statements they file with regulators the next year, how the vote affected their decisions on pay. So in 2012, Stanley Black & Decker will have to say whether it changed Lundgren's pay because of the negative vote.
"Shareholders don't have any tools at the moment to force companies to make changes in pay, but there are plenty of companies making changes because they don't want the attention of a negative vote," said Mark Borges, a principal at the compensation consulting firm Compensia.