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Bosses are taking pay cuts. But are CEOs really sharing the pain when salaries make up just a tiny fraction of total pay? Even CEOs are starting to get squeezed by the economic realities of this pandemic.

How things play out will depend on the economy, financial markets, and ultimately the coronavirus itself. But as the pain grows for ordinary workers, executive pay—a divisive issue in an age of extraordinary inequality—has come to the fore once again.

All across the country, as millions of Americans are thrown out of work, tough questions are once again being asked about executive pay.

Dozens of companies across industries have announced CEO pay reductions and those moves are a conscious, if symbolic, display of solidarity and shared sacrifice, an effort by the bosses not to appear tone deaf. But on the other hand, they lay bare the gaping economic disparities between those at the very top of corporate America and everyone else.

The pandemic has also brought into stark relief the lucrative golden parachutes given to corporate executives.

Companies must weigh past promises against public perception, says Aalap Shah, a partner at Pearl Meyer, an executive-pay consulting firm. “If you don’t react in a way of camaraderie,” he said, “that’s going to be very telling about the kind of company you are.”

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