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A Third of Bank Tellers Rely on Government Assistance, Study Says

The Washington (D.C.) city council voted to raise the minimum wage to $11.50. Workers at Wal-Mart Stores (WMT)protested on Black Friday. And President Obama is talking about about wage stagnation and income inequality in a speech today. Now there’s new focus on an unexpected corner of low-wage earners: bank tellers.

Researchers from the University of California at Berkeley calculate that almost a third of all bank tellers receive some form of government assistance, according to the Washington Post. That includes $534 million for health insurance through Medicaid and coverage for low-income children, $250 million in tax credits for low and moderate earners, and more than $100 million in food stamps. They qualify for government aid because, on average, the country’s half a million tellers earn about $25,790 a year, or $12.40 an hour (if they work a 40-hour work week), according to the most recent government data. That’s less than similar administrative jobs, and tellers are also more likely to be part-time employees.

The Post says the researchers calculated the cost to taxpayers for the Committee for Better Banks, a campaign by four New York-based groups that advocate on behalf of labor and low-wage earners. The group recently protested against Bank of America’s new ATMs that connect customers to tellers via video chat. The group says the ATMs may presage layoffs for tellers not in call centers, which Bank of America (BAC)says is not the case.

For four decades, banks ramped up the number of branches around the country, but the financial crisis, combined with the growth of online and mobile banking, point to a coming bust. Banks have already begun rethinking whether they really need large branches and are reducing their footprint in rural areas and poorer neighborhoods. That pressure isn’t likely to help raise the wages tellers earn—or mitigate their need for public support.


Weise is a reporter for Bloomberg Businessweek in Seattle. Follow her on Twitter @kyweise.

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