January 22 2008: 4:02 PM EST
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Lavish perks, fair pay

Employees of Fortune's Best Companies to Work For seem more content with their salaries now than they were ten years ago. There have been a lot of other changes, too.

By Anne Fisher, Fortune senior writer

(Fortune) -- What a difference a decade makes. 2008 marks the 10th anniversary of Fortune's list of the 100 Best Companies to Work For, and a close look at this year's honorees reveals a lot about how the U.S. economic landscape has changed.

Increasingly, it seems, the best places to work are privately held. Ten years ago, 67 of the top 100 were public. This year, just 44 need to answer to shareholders or Wall Street analysts. "Aha!" you may be thinking. "No wonder these outfits can lavish such great perks and benefits on employees!" Good point, especially since some of those perks might strike some corporations as too controversial for comfort. In 1998, for example, 28 of the Best Companies offered domestic-partner benefits for same-sex couples. Today, 72 do.

Meanwhile, the economy's continuing shift to services is clear. In 1998, the 100 Best included 31 manufacturers -- comprising almost one-third the list - and just one law firm and three professional services companies. In 2008, only 14 manufacturers turn up -- but there are five law firms and 11 service providers.

Intriguingly, employees of Best Companies seem more content with their pay now than they were ten years ago. When asked whether they receive a fair share of their employer's profits, in 1998 56% of respondents agreed. Remember, that was back in the giddy era of unlimited stock options, 19-year-old dotcom CEOs, and what former Fed chairman Alan Greenspan famously called "irrational exuberance." Now, one recession and a couple of big bubble bursts later, a heightened sense of reality seems to have set in. Although inflation-adjusted salaries have stayed pretty constant, 71% now agree their pay is fair.

With unemployment rising and forecasters warning another recession may be just ahead, it's worth noting that the 100 Best Companies are phenomenal job-creation machines. They employed about 1.6 million people in 2007, up 16% from the year before. Even so, good luck getting a foot in the door. The average company on the list has 15,853 people on the payroll - and gets 96,062 applicants each year. To top of page

Company Price Change % Change
Bank of America Corp... 14.98 -0.27 -1.77%
Apple Inc 96.13 0.53 0.55%
Facebook Inc 72.37 -0.28 -0.39%
General Electric Co 25.35 0.20 0.80%
Ford Motor Co 16.81 -0.21 -1.23%
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