There’s a reason the #OccupyWallSt protesters picked a fight with Wall Street specifically. Not the rich. Not the wealthy. Not New York City. Not Congress. But Wall Street. This is that reason:
The above chart comes from a new report from the New York State Comptroller’s office on the securities industry in New York City (.pdf). Here are some selected highlights:
• “In 2010, the securities industry accounted for 23.5 percent of all wages paid in the private sector even though it accounted for only 5.3 percent of all private sector jobs.”
• “In 2010, the average salary in the securities industry in New York City grew by 16.1% to $361,330, which was 5.5 times higher than the average salary in the rest of the private sector ($66,120). In 1981, the average salary in the securities industry was only twice as high as in all other private sector jobs.”
• “In February 2011, OSC estimated that the amount of cash bonuses paid to securities industry workers in New York City for work performed in 2010 declined by 7.5 percent, to $20.8 billion after a 27.4 percent increase in 2009.”
• “Compensation at the member firms of the NYSE totaled $37.2 billion in the first half of 2011, which was 18.7 percent more than in the first half of 2010.”
None of that is to say that bankers are “villains” here. In an era in which a stagnant economy is squeezing everyone, Wall Street bankers and financial services industry workers can’t entirely be faulted for accepting whatever compensation the market allows. Nobody forced banks and financial firms to award these salaries and bonuses — there was no guns pointed at anyone’s heads.
Besides, they went to good schools to get those jobs, they work long hours and they could be laid off at a moment’s notice just like everyone else. In fact, “the sector employs just 12 percent of the city’s work force, but accounted for one out of every three jobs lost in the recession,” the New York Times notes.)
But in this time when 14 million Americans are unemployed, another 8.8 million are working only part-time, and another 2.6 million have stopped looking for work and are therefore not counted at all, the reason this movement chose to call themselves “Occupy Wall Street” and not “Occupy New York City” can clearly be seen by this chart showing the disproportionately widening gap between the bankers and everyone else. Factor in the realization that these same recipients of this compensatory largesse essentially led the economy to the brink of disaster three years ago, a calamity from which we’ve never recovered, and it’s obvious why some people might have a problem with these figures.
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