THE 500K-A-YEAR HARDSHIP

These are rough economic times for many Americans, but one group is especially hard-pressed: Wall Street bankers.

These are rough economic times for many Americans, but one group is especially hard-pressed: Wall Street bankers.

While it’s true that they’ve made a killing over the last several years, paying themselves unfathomable salaries and bonuses, times have changed. Washington is now imposing harsh pay limits on bankers whose firms are getting bailout money – they’re actually expecting bankers to work for only $500,000 a year!

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Have they no mercy? Have they no clue what it costs to maintain even a Spartan Wall Street lifestyle? Well, the New York Times recently put some figures to this hardship. As the article explains, it’s not merely a matter of making some sacrifices, but of meeting expectations: “[Bankers] identities are entwined with living a certain way… that only a seven-figure income can stretch to cover.”

One has to live, for example, on the Upper East Side of Manhattan and have a summerhouse in the Hamptons. These alone put you over the $500,000 cap. Also, if you run a bank, says the article, “you can’t look like a slob,” so a closet full of $1,000 suits is essential. Then there are private schools, private tutors, the nanny, summer camps, and whatnot – all at a pretty penny. Speaking of pretty, women need new gowns for each of the three or four charity balls that banker couples must attend every season, costing about $10,000 a pop.

Of course, bankers can’t do without a limo and driver. As the article puts it, stockholders expect a chief executive who is “a well-to-do man with a certain sureness of stride, something that might be lost if the executive were crowding onto the [commuter] train every morning.”

So, considering these essential expenses, I’m sure we can agree that it’s outrageous to expect these sorts of people to scrape by on only half-a-million dollars a year. Can’t we?

“You Try to Live on 500K in This Town,” www.nytimes.com, February 8, 2009.

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