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Wall Street bonuses have risen yet again, with the average bonus up eight percent last year. The average now is $121,890—not quite two and a half times the U.S. median household income. Which wouldn't sound so outrageously outrageous if these weren't the bonuses, not bankers' total income, and if that average didn't include secretaries as well as top executives. But it wasn't always this way:
Since 1985 the average securities industry bonus in the city has risen about four-fold. There’s a big jump from 1990 to 1991, when bonuses went from about $27,000 in real-dollar terms to $52,000, and a series of further increases from there. Bankers and traders in a bad year now earn much more than they did in a good one. [...]
In 1985, the industry had about 130,000 employees in New York. Last year, that number was 169,200 (fewer than in 1997, and barely more than the 163,000 workers in 1987).
Meanwhile, the bonus pool has risen in real-dollar terms from $4.1 billion to $20.1 billion.
So the money has multiplied while the number of people dividing it up has not. Presto! Soaring bonuses at the top. While acknowledging that "It doesn’t do anything to make it seem fair," Bloomberg's Mark Gimein describes this as a sort of ideologically neutral process in which the deals have gotten bigger without necessarily requiring more people: "It’s just that it doesn’t take many more people to do a $300 million deal than a $50 million."
But the thing is, every wage group, among both men and women, worked more hours in 2007 than they did in 1979. For the people at the top, a relatively small increase in hours worked has, as we know, gone along with a big increase in wages. (People in the middle and at the bottom have increased their hours by more, while their wages rise less.) When the top five percent of earners increase their annual hours worked by 7.6 percent, and they're the only people reaping the benefits of working increased hours, that's no ideologically neutral. It's not just a thing that's happening independent of what the rich and powerful want.
Besides, at the end of the day, we're talking about giant bonuses for the people who wrecked our economy when, in many cases, criminal charges would be more appropriate.