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The nation’s banks, which raked in $141.3 billion in profit last year, are inflating their bottom lines by relying on taxpayer subsidies in the form of public assistance that almost a third of the country’s half-million bank tellers rely on to survive, according to a new report. Even as low-paid fast food workers and Wal-Mart employees hold protests and strikes to publicize their exploitation, the report highlights yet another industry accused of pushing down wages and forcing the public to pick up the tab.

Researchers at the University of California at Berkeley Labor Center found that taxpayers are shelling out nearly $900 million a year to bring the wages of bank tellers up to a minimally survivable level, which they argue amounts to a public subsidy for big banks. Bank tellers—whose median income is $24,100 ($11.59 per hour)—collect $105 million in food stamps, $250 million via the earned income tax credit and $534 million from Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program, according to the report.

Meanwhile, median chief executive pay at American banks averages about $552,000, according to SNL Financial, and the average Wall Streeter earned $362,950 in 2010. “There is really a tale of two banking industries,” said Brigid Flaherty, organizing director of Align, another coalition group.

Conditions for tellers are actually worse at the very heart of the financial industry—New York City. The Committee for Better Banks, a coalition of advocacy groups, has published a study finding that 39% of New York City tellers and their family members are enrolled in some form of public assistance program.

“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,” argued Deborah Axt, co-executive director at Make the Road New York, one of the coalition members.


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