Pay at top rises despite U.S. woes (Associated Press)

As the American economy slowed to a crawl and stockholders watched their money evaporate, CEO pay still soared last year, an Associated Press analysis shows.

The review of compensation for the heads of companies in the Standard & Poor's 500 index finds the median pay package added up to nearly $8.4 million. That's a comfortable gain of about $280,000 from 2006.

The 3.5 percent pay increase for CEOs came even as the landscape for workers and shareholders darkened considerably and the economy was choked by a housing market in free fall, layoffs and soaring prices for fuel and food.

At the top of the national list: John Thain, who took the reins of Merrill Lynch on Dec. 1, 2007. His $83 million pay package was supercharged by a signing bonus and other enticements that lured him from the New York Stock Exchange to lead the investment bank as it was suffering its worst-ever losses.

Collectively, the 10 best-paid CEOs made more than half a billion dollars last year. Yet half led companies whose profits shrank dramatically.