Wall Street Mourns Bonus-Free Salaries

No one feels sympathetic

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Today's New York Times introduces its readers to a new form of Wall Street species: "The Zeros." The Zeros, the paper explains, are a new generation of mid-level traders and brokers who won't be receiving any holiday bonuses this year. Within the Wall Street ecosystem, they are a very pitied lot, Times sources say. It's not that they're being paid less (no, Wall Street base salaries rose from $200,000 to $400,000 in many cases). It's just that it doesn't feel as nice to not get a big bonus at the end of the year:

Even though employees will receive roughly the same amount of money, the psychological blow of not getting a bonus is substantial, especially in a Wall Street culture that has long equated success and prestige with bonus size. So there are sure to be plenty of long faces on employees across the financial sector who have come to expect a bonus on top of their base pay. Wall Streeters typically find out what their bonuses will be in January, with the payout coming in February.

As one might expect, the meagerly-paid members of America's blogosphere were less than sympathetic.

  • Cry Me a River, writes Matt Taibbi at Fire Dog Lake: "Break out the tiny violins. Some banksters are about to be forced to live on ramen and sadness."
  • Here's My Favorite Quote, The Times interviewed an employee of an executive search firm who says he "would not want to be head of compensation at a Wall Street firm right now." To Hamilton Nolan at Gawker this sounds like a terrific job. "Get paid several hundred thousand dollars a year in order to tell bankers they're not getting shit? Sounds like America's greatest job," he writes.
  • And How About Top-Level CEOs? ponders Kevin Drum at Mother Jones:

Chief executives, says the Times, will continue to get paid the old-fashioned way, "with bonuses climbing into the stratosphere as the shock of the financial crisis fades and pay for the top tier climbs back toward historical averages." Good to hear.

  • Wall Street Needed to Sober Up on Bonuses, writes the more serious staff at Investment News:

While all employees who do their jobs well should be paid competitively, pay structures that encourage overly rich compensation-- particularly plans intended mainly to benefit an elite group of senior executives--undermine shareholders' faith in Wall Street and, ultimately, in the financial markets.

All of this reminds us of a time (in the the late '80s) when not getting a bonus actually meant something:

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