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Wall Street Pay Remains Touchy Subject

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- The subject of Wall Street pay just won't go away.

Goldman Sachs (GS - Get Report), which typically has among the richest and best-paid employees, distributed the smallest compensation in its history, on a relative basis. American International Group (AIG - Get Report) is reportedly overhauling its entire pay structure, moving more toward a model pioneered by former General Electric (GE - Get Report) CEO Jack Welch.

Citigroup (C - Get Report) sold off an entire business to get rid of its manager's pay controversy. For their part, the departing CEOs of both Bank of America (BAC - Get Report) and Morgan Stanley (MS) took home no incentive compensation for 2009.

Just about every firm on Wall Street has reviewed and altered pay practices over the past year. The effort has been such that even President Obama, who has been leading the charge against big Wall Street pay packages -- calling the recipients "fat-cat bankers" as recently as December -- softened his stance this week.

In an interview with Bloomberg BusinessWeek, Obama was asked how he felt about JPMorgan Chase (JPM - Get Report) CEO Jamie Dimon receiving a $17 million stock bonus, and Goldman CEO Lloyd Blankfein receiving $9 million in equity-based compensation, for their performance last year.

"I know both those guys," said Obama. "They're very savvy businessmen. And I, like most of the American people, don't begrudge people success or wealth."

Yet the steady drumbeat of questions and criticism won't abate.

The reason is simple: The wealth gap between Wall Street and the rest of America is huge. According to federal data, the median household income was less than $51,000 in 2007 -- the year that represented Wall Street's peak. Keep in mind that each household has roughly 2.6 people, meaning each human gets $19,590 to survive on each year, or $53.67 per day.

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