updated 8/31/2004 8:20:18 AM ET 2004-08-31T12:20:18

Chief executives of U.S. companies that outsourced the greatest number of jobs reaped bigger pay and benefits last year, according to a new study of executive compensation being released Tuesday.

Average CEO compensation at the 50 companies outsourcing the most service jobs rose by 46 percent in 2003 from a year earlier, compared with a 9 percent increase for CEOs at 365 big companies overall, the study by the left-leaning Institute for Policy Studies and United for a Fair Economy found.

Outsourcing of jobs has become a sensitive issue, and President George W. Bush has largely avoided the subject in public appearances during the political campaign. Some of his economic advisers have said that exporting labor to low-cost countries will reduce business costs, boost companies' financial performance and thereby improve the U.S. economy.

The two groups' annual "Executive Excess" report said average CEO pay at the "top 50" outsourcing companies was US$10.4 million (euro8.6 million) last year, compared with US$8.1 million (euro6.7 million) for the 365 companies.

The study also found that CEOs of the 70 companies that helped finance this summer's Democratic and Republican National Conventions had an average pay increase of 49 percent in 2003, compared with a 9 percent average rise for CEOs overall.

The report noted that after two years of narrowing, the pay gap between CEOs and employees rose again in 2003, to 301:1 from 282:1.

The U.S. job market has been soft, with stagnant wages. Hiring came to a near-standstill last month, with companies adding just 32,000 new jobs overall, surprising economists who had expected seven times as many.

Copyright 2004 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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