Wall Street's bonuses were so lavish last year that they doubled the combined annual pay of the nation's full-time minimum wage workers, according to a new report.
Securities firms set aside $25 billion for bonuses for their roughly 172,000 New York City employees, the New York State comptroller said Monday.
That compares to the estimated $12 billion earned in 2014 by the 895,000 Americans who worked at least 35 hours a week for the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, the Institute for Policy Studies said in a report Tuesday.
It's the second straight year that bonuses on Wall Street doubled the combined earnings of the nation's full-time minimum wage workers, the institute said.
The report comes as low-wage workers across the country fight for higher pay, and presidential candidates increasingly highlight income inequality on the campaign trail. Sen. Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton's rival for the Democratic nomination, has referred to wealth and income inequality as "the great moral issue of our time."
The increasing gap in pay helped prompt fast food workers in 2012 to launch the so-called Fight for $15 movement, which advocates for hourly pay of at least $15. The National Employment Law Project reckons that Americans need to earn at least $15 an hour in order to cover basic living costs in much of the country.
Some 42 percent of workers earn less than $15 per hour, the employment group estimates.
In fact, Wall Street's bonus pool last year would have been large enough to hike hourly pay to $15 for all of the nation's 2.6 million fast food workers, the Institute for Policy Studies estimates. The $25 billion pot also could have been deployed to lift hourly wages to $15 for the 1.6 million home care aides in America, or all 2.6 million restaurant servers and bartenders.
The U.S. economy would probably benefit from higher pay for hourly workers than for Wall Street executives, according to the institute. That's because low- and middle-income workers typically spend most of their earnings. Household purchases account for nearly 70 percent of the economy, Commerce Department data show.
"The Wall Street bonus season may coincide with an uptick in luxury goods sales, but a minimum wage hike would give America’s economy a much greater boost," the institute said in its report.
Over the last few years, companies including Walmart, McDonald’s and Aetna have increased pay for their low-wage workers.