Bank Teller

It’s no secret that the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer, but a shocking new report has found that almost 40% of NYC bank tellers are, like many other workers in NYC, forced to depend on public assistance to survive.

At the same time, bank CEO pay has never been higher; the median bank CEO pay recently increased by 22% to $552,000, including the various salary, bonus, perks, the potential value of stock and option awards, and other elements that make up the plush rewards given to these financial “masters.”

“All of them are being overpaid. The bank boards still don’t have a good handle on how they should be compensating their executives.” - Eleanor Bloxham, CEO of Value Alliance Co., a board advisory firm in Westerville, Ohio [source]

Median pay means that exactly one half of bank CEOs make MORE than $552,000, while the rest are forced to settle for less.

Now, just over half a million dollars might not sound like much compared to some of the salaries lavished on the best compensated CEOs, but it is still more than 10 times greater than the median household income of the United States.

Income Distribution Graph

There is a large disparity between big bankers and small bankers when it comes to compensation; while the CEOs of small banks take home a median salary of $330,000, the median salary of the CEOs of large banks is a whopping $15.5 million.

There are fewer of them, but they are far, far richer.

By SNL calculations, Wells Fargo & Co.’s Stumpf earned $22.9 million for 2012. The biggest chunk came from stock awards that could eventually be worth $12.5 million, though that value could vary dramatically depending on how the bank performs.

Behind Stumpf were Richard Fairbank of Capital One Financial Corp. with $22.6 million, JPMorgan’s Dimon with $18.7 million, Richard Davis of U.S. Bancorp with $18.2 million, and Joseph Hooley of State Street Corp. with $15.6 million. [source]

In the meantime, bank tellers, who used to be in a solidly middle class position, have seen an incredible erosion in their working conditions and wages. Whereas working for a bank in the past has been solid, reliable, and decently compensated employment, the newest report shows that New York bank tellers are just like many other New York City workers: employed part time, underpaid, and forced to live on public assistance.

The Real News has an illuminating interview HERE with Deborah Axt, a board member of the Make The Road Action Fund, one of the groups responsible for THIS report investigating the working conditions of bank tellers.

You can watch their video below with journalist Jessica Desvarieux as she finds out from Axt just what the conditions on the ground are for bank tellers, the front line workers of the financial industry.

Income inequality within the financial industry closely mirrors conditions outside of the industry, with a large plurality of workers being paid poverty-level wages and a very few incredibly wealthy and powerful individuals at the top.

According to these banks, even amongst their employees at least a third of people don’t deserve enough money to live (have to find a way to motivate the other two-thirds), although at the heart of the beast in New York City, Wall Street bankers have increased this to a whopping 4 in 10.

For those bank employees being paid these poverty-level wages, the pressure is even more intense; the Associated Press reports that in addition to the pressure of low wages, the banks put intense pressure on its employees to make sales quotas, one of the types of behavior that led to the subprime mortgage crisis.

Alex Shalom, 20, works part time at a Bank of America branch in Manhattan, where he makes $13.50 an hour, or $14,000 a year. The pay is barely enough to pay rent and cover his tuition at Hunter College, Shalom said.

“It’s not a livable wage,” he said. “Bank of America is making all of this money . . . but we’re not getting paid for holidays.”

Another common complaint among bank workers was the intense pressure to meet sales quotas. One Wells Fargo employee, Victoria, who would only give researchers her first name, claimed she received more than 50 e-mails a day from managers pushing sales goals. Employees, she said, had to aggressively peddle products “just to be able to keep our jobs.” [source]

While those at the pinnacle of wealth on Wall Street make and lose unimaginable fortunes in less than the blink of an eye, the public is forced to pick up the tab for thousands of their workers.

New York City alone is forced to pay $112 million in benefits to people employed by banks, while American taxpayers as a whole give bank tellers almost $900 million in public assistance as banks continue to make billions of dollars in profit.

The Huffington Post noted HERE that this decline in the quality of life for banking workers mirrors the general decline in the middle class, as jobs have increasingly been shifted to part time work and wages have stagnated.

Banking used to offer workers without college degrees an entry point into the middle class. But changes in the economic landscape, as well as technological innovations, have eroded the quality of these jobs. About 25 percent of workers in 1985 held “middle skill” jobs like bank tellers, compared with slightly more than 15 percent in 2012, according to a September paper from the Federal Reserve.

These days about 27 percent of bank tellers work part-time, according to the BLS. And their median hourly wage was $11.59 in 2010, the most recent year for which BLS has data. The average Wall Streeter earned $362,950 in 2010.

“There is really a tale of two banking industries,” said Brigid Flaherty, the organizing director of Align, a group that’s affiliated with a coalition of labor groups called the Committee for Better Banks. [source]

The tale of two banking industries; the tale of two cities; the tale of two worlds.

Capitalism is fracturing our society, driven by the financial giants at the top of the corporate heap.

The best response is solidarity: we are all more similar than we think, and we are most effective when we work together.

It’s time for bank tellers to join with fast food workers, Walmart employees… and students, and union representatives, and retirees, and medical professionals, and academics, and everyone else who cares about ensuring a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work to join together and fight for a living wage.

Together, in this wealthy nation, $15 an hour is not only possible; it is a goal that we can achieve.

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Winter lies bare the hard truths of nature... the rocks that lie beneath the flowers, the branches obscured in other seasons by leaves. Those who seek the truth may be thought cold at times, but with the cool light of reason we seek to illuminate the world around us.