Almost a third of the country's half-million bank tellers rely on some form of public assistance to get by, according to a report released Wednesday.
Researchers say taxpayers are doling out nearly $900 million a year to supplement the wages of bank tellers, which amounts to a public subsidy for multibillion-dollar banks. The workers collect $105 million in food stamps, $250 million through the earned income tax credit and $534 million by way of Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program, according to the University of California at Berkeley's Labor Center. The center provided the data to the Committee for Better Banks, a coalition of labor advocacy groups that published the broader study on the conditions of bank workers in the heart of the financial industry, New York. In that state alone, 39 percent of tellers and their family members are enrolled in some form of public assistance program, the data show.
"This is the wealthiest and most powerful industry in the world, and it's substantially subsidized by our tax dollars, money that we could be spending on child care or pre-K," said Deborah Axt, co-executive director at Make the Road New York, one of four coalition members.
Profits at the nation's banks topped $141.3 billion last year, with the median chief executive pay hovering around $552 million, according to SNL Financial. In contrast, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics pegs the median annual income of a bank teller at $24,100, or $11.59 an hour.
For its report, the committee spoke with 5,000 bank tellers, customer service representatives and technicians about their pay, benefits and treatment in the workplace. Workers bemoaned their poor wages and long hours without overtime pay.
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.
Although banks have rebounded from the depths of the recession, analysts say they are still contending with economic headwinds that are placing pressure on revenues. As a result, they say, institutions may be less inclined to raise wages and maintain full-time staff.