Average Wall Street Bonus Dips to $120k After Bad 2011

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On Wall Street, loyalty runs deep.

After a dreadful 2011 that saw Wall Street profits plunge, many financial industry workers feared that bonuses, which typically make up a large chunk of their compensation, would fall off a cliff. But according to a new report by New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, the total amount Wall Street firms paid in bonuses only declined by 14% last year, despite the fact that financial industry profits fell by half.

DiNapoli’s report painted a picture of a financial sector that is shrinking. Overall profits on Wall Street were $13.5 billion in 2011, compared to $27.6 billion in 2010 and $61.4 billion in 2009, when the industry snapped back — “with the benefit of federal assistance,” the report notes — after the financial meltdown.

“Cash bonuses were down in 2011, reflecting a difficult year on Wall Street,” DiNapoli said in a statement. “Profits were down sharply and securities firms in New York City resumed downsizing in the second half of the year. The securities industry, which is a critical component of the economies of New York City and New York State, faces continued challenges as it works through the fallout from the financial crisis and adjusts to regulatory reforms.”

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But despite the dramatic decline in Wall Street profits, bonuses held up better than many had feared. The average cash bonus declined by 13% to $121,150 for 2011, from $138,940 the previous year, according to Napoli. (Average bonus declined slightly less than the overall bonus pool because there were fewer workers in 2011 than in 2010.)

That’s less than the 20%-30% decline in bonuses that many industry analysts had predicted.

But that hasn’t stopped some financial industry professionals from lamenting how reduced Wall Street pay is crimping their lifestyles. In a Bloomberg article that appeared on Wednesday, several finance pros discuss how they’ve had to cut back on luxuries like ski trips to Aspen.

“People who don’t have money don’t understand the stress,” Alan Dlugash, an accountant who specializes in financial planning for the wealthy, told Bloomberg. “Could you imagine what it’s like to say I got three kids in private school, I have to think about pulling them out? How do you do that?”

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Wall Street’s contraction is particularly troubling for New York City’s economy, which relies, in part, on taxes generated by Wall Street incomes and real estate purchases by bankers and traders. The report found that Wall Street has not come close to recouping the job losses it suffered during the financial crisis, when the industry shed 28,000 jobs. Until last April, Wall Street had added 9,600 jobs, but between then and December, the downward trend resumed, with the industry losing 4,800 jobs.

The study found that business and personal income tax collections from “Wall Street related activities” declined to 14% of New York State tax revenue, down from 20% prior to the financial crisis. The industry’s share of New York City tax revenue fell from 13% before the crisis to less than 7%, the study found.

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