Big Banks and the Dismantling of the Middle Class
The finance industry now dominates the U.S. and global economy, generating one-third of total corporate profits in the United States. But rather than serving communities and reforming the practices that led to the Great Recession, the country’s top ten banks take in approximately $100 billion in annual profits, reward executives with exorbitant bonuses, and engage in unethical and sometimes illegal practices that keep the very taxpayers who bailed them out from getting ahead.
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Big banks drive an uneven recovery
The economic recovery has been an unequal one, deepening the divide between the wealthy and everyone else. The housing crash disproportionately harmed communities of color—and that damage has not been reversed. The median net worth for people of color fell 53 percent during the Great Recession; for Latinos, a 66 percent decrease. Median net worth for whites fell only 16 percent.
Meanwhile, the financial sector, which triggered this cataclysm, has emerged stronger and more consolidated, rather than being fundamentally restructured. The top five banks are still making 20 cents of profit on every dollar of revenue—after taxes. To illustrate, a single $35 overdraft fee charged to a customer would generate $7 in profit for a big bank.
Big banks continue to take advantage of working families
Twenty-seven percent of Americans are unbanked and underbanked. Instead of ensuring that Americans have the financial services they need to get ahead, big banks are closing needed local branches and pressuring workers to provide advice and services to customers based on a set of sales quotas, rather than sound financial principles. These practices are known to prompt predatory banking practices that have a negative impact on consumers, the economy and the workers forced to push them on their communities.
Bank workers across the country are at the frontlines of the banking industry and can play a critical role in ensuring fair banking practices that benefit customers, communities and the economy. But banks are cutting workers’ benefits, pay and hours. In fact, front-line bankers’ wages are lower now than what they were prior to the recession.
This report explores how big banks are making it impossible to rebuild the middle class and demonstrates that several underlying factors that contributed to the Great Recession persist to this day. It begins with the financial sector’s record of unethical business activities and, through the direct experiences of front-line workers, it details how banks are forcing workers to perpetuate these practices that threaten customers’ economic security. Next, it explores the banking workforce and looks at the low pay, cuts in hours, outsourcing and closing of branches that exacerbate the underbanked crises already facing communities.
A way forward for communities
If banks continue to engage in risky and predatory behavior that perversely rewards executives, it will continue to endanger the banks themselves and threatening the economy at large. This report looks at how banks can change direction and play a critical role in supporting the economy and its recovery.
Specifically, to strengthen financial services across the country and ensure a banking system that works for everyone, the financial sector could adopt a just compensation model, where bank workers receive a fair share of the profits they create; commit to achieving high-quality service, wherein they promote the financial security of their customers above all; and invest in a future in the communities in which they operate.