Bank tellers becoming McBanks workers

A few mornings ago I dropped into my neighborhood bank. I rarely go in anymore, now that online banking and ATMs are available and was courteously and pleasantly treated as always by the tellers. I was shocked later in the day to see this report (via Pharyngula) that about a third of bank tellers now depend on some form of public assistance to make ends meet. It is yet another example of the galloping divergence between the few haves and the many have-nots in the US.

Profits at the nation’s banks topped $141.3 billion last year, with the median chief executive pay hovering around $552,000, 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.

This is disgraceful. Such jobs used to be the foundation for the middle class. One did not become wealthy doing them but they provided a reasonable income that one could live on, and had some security and benefits. What is the country coming to when jobs like that are now paying so poorly? How many more formerly middle class jobs will drift downwards into Walmart and fast food territory? Is it any wonder that labor unrest is spreading across the country?

The committee’s report arrives as fast-food workers, retail employees and other low-wage workers stage strikes across the country, including one planned for Thursday. They are fighting to have their pay raised to $15 an hour and for an easier path to forming unions.

What we are seeing is a long-term trend of companies seeking to increase their profits and executive compensation by squeezing workers’ wages and forcing them to seek public assistance, while their allies in Congress cut those same benefits so that the taxes on the same rich can be kept low. So the people at the bottom are being squeezed at both ends while the people at the top benefit.


  1. raven says

    This subsidy ends up in the bank accounts of the ultrarich. Follow the money. It starts with the taxpayers, cycles through the workers and corporations, and ends up with the ultrarich. It’s welfare for those who need it least.

    Xpost from Pharyngula:

    1. Because they (the corporations) are moochers. That food stamp money comes from the taxpayers. It isn’t free money that just appears out of nowhere.

    So the taxpayers are subsidizing the corporations.

    2. If they needed that money, it might not be a big deal. It might even be a good idea.

    But they don’t. The banks etc. are making huge record profits. And those profits go to a tiny group that owns and runs those companies.

    So the taxpayers are subsidizing the ultrarich. Who need it the least.

  2. raven says

    by squeezing workers’ wages and forcing them to seek public assistance, while their allies in Congress cut those same benefits so that the taxes on the same rich can be kept low.


    The low wage workers have ended up needing food stamps to survive.

    So the Tea Party’s solution is to…cut food stamps. 70% of food stamp recipients are children, disabled, or old people. 40% of food stamp households have at least one working member.

    There really is no reason for this. It isn’t even that much of the budget and we are still a rich country. AFAICT, they are just vicious sociopathic people.

    And we all know where they got that. “Who would jesus let go hungry?”

  3. wtfwhateverd00d says

    I was shocked to read that as well. It seems almost Dickensian when a bank teller can’t earn enough to feed him or herself.

  4. Jockaira says

    From a strict dollars and cents perspective, these abuses of workers and taxpayers by business are excellent justification for a much higher minimum wage. Higher wages would mean many fewer receiving public assistance resulting in decreased outlay from taxpayer revenue for those benefits. At the same time, the increased wages would result in increased tax revenue because of workers graduating to higher brackets.

    Any business that squeezes workers with low wages and then passes along the social costs to taxpayers is simply parasitical and deserves increased government surveillance and other penalties. When business complains that higher wages would hurt them competitively, the answer is simple: increased wages industry-wide will effect all in the same manner.

    Lacking a higher minimum wage, the workers in a particular business should be individually examined for their benefit costs (plus administrative overhead) due to public assistance and that cost added to the business’ next tax bill. It’s only fair, why should the taxpayers underwrite the chintzy policies of the money-grubbers?

    Speaking of competition, “job creators”, and such it should be noted that the highest levels of employment and general wealth for all income brackets was during the 50’s and 60’s when the highest income tax rates were 90% on incomes over $200,000. This did not stifle technological innovation, the creation of new jobs, or the accumulation of wealth. It’s time for the rich to pay their fair share for living in such luxury with income tax rates so low as to be unbelievable.

  5. raven says

    Ironically even bank branches and bank tellers are going away.

    A whole lot of people use online banking and ATM’s these days.

    The average bank patron is some old person who totters in every once in a while because they don’t like ATM’s and don’t know how to use a computer for online banking. LOL, I resemble that description.

    I can do all that but usually just go into my branch. It’s not out of the way. These days there are few tellers or customers and never a line. Last week when I went in, a teller was holding the door open so the only other customer, an old lady in a walker could get out easily.

  6. Chiroptera says

    When I was in Tanzania, I was told that bank tellers actually made a really good wage. When I asked why more than other similar types of jobs, it was pointed out to me that bank tellers handle a whole lot of money. In cash. And the banks didn’t want to give an incentive to their employees to just walk out the doors with it.

    While I’m sure that modern record keeping in US banks would allow them to track down thieves in short order, nonetheless desperate people will do desperate things, and I don’t imagine that former tellers sent to jail will do the bank a whole lot of good if the money has already been spent on non-recoverable things like groceries or medicine.

  7. colnago80 says

    I have a flash for Prof.Singham, One of the reasons why banks can get away with low wages for their tellers is that the demand for tellers is far less then it was 40 years ago because of the proliferation of ATMs and on-line banking. Those of us who use ATMs and on-line banking bear responsibility for this situation. Don’t blame everything on the greedy bankers. Its supply and demand.

  8. Mano Singham says

    You are just regurgitating the despicable argument that the oligarchy and the GOP makes, that they should be allowed to pay whatever the labor market will bear. This is why we need a livable minimum wage so that they cannot exploit difficult economic times to pay poorly. The greedy bankers and Walmart and fast food companies and the like are definitely to blame. ‘Supply and demand’ can be used for goods and higher income jobs but should not be used to pay people so little that they cannot survive. There has to be a floor.

    I would have thought that would be obvious to someone who keeps insisting that he is a liberal Democrat.

  9. colnago80 says

    So the folks like Prof. Singham who use teller machines and bank on line and who shop at Walmart have no responsibility for the actions of those companies. Don’t like the way they do business, don’t take your business there. By the way, I favor raising the minimum wage. I just recognize that those of us who do business with companies who oppose raising it bear some responsibility for their actions.

  10. Mano Singham says

    Again, that is a form of the extreme free-market philosophy espoused by the oligarchy. It is like saying that we should not use email because it hurts the postal service.

    In a quasi-monopoly capitalistic system like what we have, people have very limited choices. That is why the government has to step in. By regurgitating the oligarchic arguments, you are merely blurring the issue using the favored tactic of Fox News, however much you may protest to the contrary.

  11. Wayne Turner says

    Colagno,try reading for comprehension. The issue is not whether tellers are worth less because there is no demand,,and hence the solution (that you propose) is to increase demand. The issue is whether workers are people or commodities. Inherent in the language you use is that people are commodities which is the position of the oligarchs. You may not mean that, but that’s how it reads.

  12. ShowMetheData says

    ” [It’s as if those] who use teller machines and bank on line and who shop at Walmart have no responsibility for the actions of those companies”

    Since those companies make their billions of profits due to the workers they definitely should pay them a livable wage rather than hand the bills over to US (through the government)

  13. Mano Singham says

    Shorter colnago80:

    Call myself a liberal Democrat, spout Fox News and GOP talking points.

    It is an easy (and pointless) game to put words in other people’s mouths.

  14. smrnda says

    I’m not sure the use of online banking or ATMs necessarily results in decreased wages to tellers. I can see an argument that it would reduce the number of tellers overall, but I see no reason why the few remaining tellers can’t be paid a decent wage.

    It is true that, overall, labor-saving technologies end up creating a problem of surplus labor, but the issue there is unemployment and not necessarily wages.

    On ‘consumer choices’ : this is based on the idea that there exist meaningful consumer choices. What is Prof Singham to do? I don’t think if he starts making frequent trips to the bank rather than using an ATM it’s going to make much of a difference. Lots of people shop at Wal-Mart because they either can’t afford to shop anywhere else or because there remain few alternatives. Yeah, I can afford to shop elsewhere, but can the minimum wage teller be so picky? There are zero ethically produced consumer electronics.

    The other thing is that social changes can kind of force you to go along with them. Many businesses, now tha there are debit cards, do not want to take checks because they can bounce and because they impose a cost on them they don’t want to pay.

  15. Mano Singham says

    As I said, there is nothing that makes my blood boil more than people who try to find ways to justify the appalling way that workers are treated by greedy companies by hiding it using the language of free-market economics and say that we are all somehow responsible for it. No, we are not, and to argue that way is to provide cover for those companies.

  16. Chiroptera says

    I have always said that US Capitalists share the same weakness as Soviet Communists: they view labor as just another economic input to the system, to be processed and exploited in the same manner as every other economic resource. They both forget that labor is people.

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