You Think You’re Getting Screwed By Your Bank? Try Being a Bank Teller

Written by Alan Pyke

“Bank teller” may sound like a profession that would allow a person to pay all her bills and live a decently middle-class life, but that’s not the case. Three in ten bank tellers rely upon some type of anti-poverty public assistance program, such as Medicaid, the Earned Income Tax Credit or food stamps, according to a new report from the Committee for Better Banks.

The report pulls from research by the University of California Berkeley’s Labor Center to illustrate the disparities within the banking industry between executives and retail-level worker bees. According to the report, “salaries for bank tellers nationwide are so low that 31% of bank tellers and their family members are enrolled in some type of public assistance program.” In New York City, where the cost of living is far higher than the national average, 39 percent of full-time tellers need public programs to get by.

Bank tellers’ reliance on public programs costs taxpayers $889 million annually. Given that the banking industry’s high profits — which have already returned to record levels just five years after the financial collapse — owe in part to its low labor costs for people like bank tellers, this means that taxpayers are effectively subsidizing bank profits to the tune of nearly $900 million per year.

This sort of indirect public subsidy of rapacious corporate profits is common in the fast food industry, but the banking business tends to present itself as a more sustainable and career-oriented industry. “These are jobs where communities are led to believe this is a career path to professional life, and they’re actually dead-end jobs,” one New York activist leader involved in producing the report told the Huffington Post.

Overall, businesses’ ability to pay unlivable wages that push people onto public assistance rolls costs taxpayers a quarter-trillion dollars every year. That public subsidy of poverty wages is most common in the fast food industry — where workers are once again striking on Thursday in as many as 100 cities around the country — but this week’s report on bank tellers shows it is an economy-wide problem.

If Congress raised the minimum wage companies would be less able to deprive working people of economic security. Gains in worker productivity should have raised the wage floor to almost $22 an hour, which is just about where the minimum wage would be today if it had grown at the same rate as the earnings of the top 1 percent over recent decades. And even a far more modest wage hike could restore the old American economic arrangement whereby working full-time meant a person didn’t have to live in poverty, as President Obama noted in a speech about the dangers of declining economic mobility.

This post was originally published in ThinkProgress

Photo credit: Thinkstock


Kathy Perez
Kathy Johnson4 years ago

My brother did well as a teller and became the manager in less than a year...

Donna Ferguson
Donna F4 years ago

wow! this is astounding! I haven't heard this from any other source. I shouldn't be surprised, w/businesses raking in profits while workers have a very hard time.

Mary B.
Mary B4 years ago

This is called 'privitizing the profit while socialising the cost.' Basically it means the business owners keep the profits made by paying workers poorly, then let the safety net programs pick up the cost of making it possible for low income people to even be able to keep body and soul together enough to be able to work. Nothing new here but maybe a lot of you are just seeing this? Anybody blaming Obama for a stratagy that has been around for decades is an Obama hater who thinks they've found another reason to spew their foul lies.

Joseph E Fasciani

Good on you, Amanda, for 'telling it like it is,' because it REALLY IS like that, and it's despicable.

Amanda M.
Amanda M4 years ago

Once again, a blatant example of how people who perform some of the most necessary jobs in the country get paid a pittance for what they do to help make the civilized world possible. The working class should be the ones who get the big bucks-after all, they're the ones who stock our stores, handle our money, keep our vehicles running, take care of our children, sick, and elderly, grow and prepare our food, and many other jobs that in the words of Mike Rowe, "make civilized life possible for the rest of us."

Don't even get me started on how "celebrities" and sports "stars" make millions just to play a friggin' game or make completel fools of themselves on TV in these so-called "reality" shows that are really nothing more than trashy fishbowls. This country's priorities are completely FUBAR.

John B.
John B4 years ago

Sorry, but that is just gross capitalism at its finest appears to be fulfilling the communist dream.

Sheri J.
Sheri J4 years ago

Robert L. when you said "Bob Cratchit", I watched Scrooge yesterday.

Sheri J.
Sheri J4 years ago

Wow I thought bank tellers made more than minimum wage.

Lynn C.
Lynn C4 years ago


lynda l.
lynda l4 years ago

If Congress raised the minimum wage companies would be less able to deprive working people of economic security

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