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Many tellers just scraping by

| Thursday, Dec. 5, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

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.

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 conditions for bank workers in the heart of the financial industry, New York. In that state, 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 about $552 million, according to SNL Financial. In contrast, the Bureau of Labor Statistics pegs the median annual income of a bank teller at $24,100, or $11.59 an hour.

Marcey Zwiebel, spokeswoman for PNC Bank in Pittsburgh, the region's largest bank, did not comment directly on the findings. But she said PNC's compensation is “competitive with those of similar companies and positions PNC for growth.”

For its report, the committee spoke with 5,000 bank tellers, customer service representatives and technicians. Workers bemoaned 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 cover rent and his tuition at Hunter College, he said.

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

Although banks have mostly rebounded from the recession, analysts say they still contend with economic headwinds that are placing pressure on revenues. Thus, they say, insti­tutions may be less inclined to raise wages and maintain full-time staff.

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