Huffington Post, December 4, 2013
A staggering number of bank tellers in New York City use public assistance to get by, a report released Wednesday found.
Thirty-nine percent of NYC-based bank tellers and their families rely on at least one government assistance program, like Medicaid, the Earned Income Tax Credit or food stamps, which costs the city a total of $112 million per year, according to the study from the New Day New York Coalition, a group of progressive organizations. Researchers arrived at their findings through government data, as well as interviews with 5,000 bank workers in the New York area, who answered questions about stress, working conditions, pay practices and how the industry has changed since 2008.
"These are jobs where communities are led to believe this is a career path to professional life, and they're actually dead-end jobs," said Deborah Axt, the co-executive director of Make the Road New York, one of the groups involved with the report.
The study's findings mirror trends nationwide and are yet another sign that the pool of so-called middle-class jobs is shrinking. Nearly one-third of the almost half-million bank tellers in the country rely on public assistance, according to an analysis by the University of California, Berkeley's Labor Center. The Labor Center's Ken Jacobs estimates that these employees' reliance on such programs costs taxpayers nationwide roughly $900 million per year.
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.
The New Day New York report comes as part of a week of protests aimed at highlighting the plight of low-wage workers. The campaign plans to deliver a petition to Bank of America's New York headquarters Wednesday afternoon, Flaherty said.
While most of the recent attention on low-wage workers has focused on fast food and retail workers, who typically earn less than bank tellers, organizers see their plights as similar -- toiling away for relatively low wages as their companies and bosses' rake in the big bucks.
"Regular frontline bank workers are basically the hourly workers that we're seeing at fast food and Walmart," Flaherty said.
Over the past year, unions and other activists have made strides in organizing fast food and retail workers, both groups that have traditionally been difficult to unionize because of their transient nature and, in the case of fast food, the franchise business model. Several protesters were arrested last week as Walmart workers and activists demonstrated at about 1,500 Walmarts on Black Friday. In addition, fast food workers are expected to walk off the job in more than 100 cities this week.
Activists have been quick to point out that if companies like Walmart, McDonald's and now big banks paid their workers more, fewer of them would have to lean on public assistance, saving taxpayers money. More than half of frontline fast food workers rely on government assistance, costing the nation $7 billion, according to an October report. A single Walmart store's low wages could cost taxpayers $900,000 per year, according to a May report from Senate Democrats.