Off the Deep End: The Wall Street Bonus Pool and Low-Wage Workers


Wall Street banks handed out $25 billion in bonuses to their New York City-based employees last year, according to new figures from the New York State Comptroller. To put these figures in perspective, we’ve compared the Wall Street payout to low-wage workers’ earnings.

  • The bonus pool for 172,400 Wall Street employees doubled the combined annual earnings of all 895,000 U.S. full-time minimum wage workers.
  • The average Wall Street bonus did decline last year, by 9 percent. But the 2015 bonus average of $146,200 still stood 4 percent higher than the average in 2009, the last time Congress increased the federal minimum wage.
wall-street-bonus-pool-min-wage-workers-2016 (2)
  • The bonus pool held enough dollars in 2015 to lift the pay of any one of these groups of low-wage workers up to $15 per hour:

o    all of the country’s 2.6 million restaurant servers and bartenders,

o    all 1.6 million home health and personal care aides, or

o    all 2.6 million fast food preparation and serving workers

wall-street-bonus-pool-low-wage-2016- (2)

Wall Street pay reform is long overdue. Section 956 of the Dodd-Frank financial reform bans large financial institutions from offering incentive pay that encourages “inappropriate risks” by providing “excessive compensation.” Regulators were supposed to implement this provision within nine months of the 2010 law’s passage.  

For sources and methodology, download the full report [PDF].

Sarah Anderson directs the Global Economy project at the Institute for Policy Studies.