Highest Earners' Pay Quintupled in 2009, Government Data Show

As the recession pushed U.S. incomes down last year, America’s highest earners -- 72 people who made more than $50 million -- earned an average of $84 million each.

Those top-end Americans earned a combined $6 billion in 2009, down from $11.9 billion earned by 131 individuals with wages above $50 million in 2008, according to Social Security Administration data. Nationally, the average annual wage fell by $598 to $39,055 and the median wage fell by $253 to $26,261 during the worst economic slump since the Great Depression.

The Social Security Administration today corrected its statistics on top earners that were released Oct. 15. A mistake was discovered in an internal review of the W-2 forms used to compile the data, said Mark Lassiter, an agency spokesman. The agency discovered that two people filed multiple W-2 forms totaling more than $32 billion.

“We discovered an error in the net compensation for wage earners earning $50 million and over and have adjusted those figures downward,” Lassiter said in an e-mail.

The Social Security administration didn’t offer details about the 72 top earners in the corrected report. They pay a 35 percent marginal tax rate, plus a 2.9 Medicare tax. According to the Tax Foundation, the top 1 percent of households, those with adjusted gross incomes above $380,354, paid 38 percent of all federal income taxes in 2008. The bottom 95 percent, those with adjusted gross incomes below $159,619, paid 41.3 percent.

The figures count only income subject to Medicare taxes, such as wages and tips. Income from investments isn’t counted.

Overall, the Social Security Administration said 150.9 million Americans reported wages in 2009, down 4.5 million from the year before. Unemployment has hovered close to 10 percent for more than a year.

To contact the reporter on this story: Ryan J. Donmoyer in Washington at rdonmoyer@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Silva at msilva34@bloomberg.net

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