Wall Street's New Normal: Fewer Jobs, but Higher Pay
The Wall Street compensation estimates New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli issued on Tuesday are only the latest evidence in an inexorable move toward fewer jobs in the industry and — here's the surprise — higher average pay.
For the year that just ended, DiNapoli's office estimated that securities-industry workers took home a cumulative $20 billion in cash bonuses.
That figure is 8 percent higher than in 2011, a recent down year, but notably lower than in 2010 and 2009, when bonus payouts topped the $22 billion level.
It's all, however, a huge decline from the highs of the mid-2000s, when bonus payouts ran well north of $30 billion per year for two years in a row.
Obviously, the financial crisis of 2008 intervened, taking with it much of the fixed-income revenue that delivered record profits and pay. Total bonuses for that year were a relatively paltry $18 billion. Since then, three major brokerage firms have effectively gone away, leaving stiffer regulation, leaner profits, and fewer jobs in their wake.
"I think it's hard to say what the new normal is going to be," DiNapoli said in an interview Tuesday with CNBC. "I think the industry is going to continue to be in transition and restructure."
(Read More: Wall Street Bonuses Seen Higher in 2012: NY State Comptroller)
He estimated that more than 28,000 New York City jobs were lost in the crisis, of which only a fraction have returned. And the majority of the new jobs that are opening in the city, he adds, are more likely to be in sectors like hospitality and technology than on Wall Street.
One positive fallout: higher average pay per worker in finance. For the year 2011, the Controller reports, the typical Wall Street employee took home $362,900 in salary and bonus (data for 2012 is not yet available). That trend is likely to continue unless the number of new jobs suddenly explodes.
"While there is stress in terms of the employment levels and challenges as far as head count going down, if you have one of these positions it's a well-compensated position," DiNapoli said. "Compared to other parts of the city's economy, these are high-paying jobs."
—By CNBC's Kate Kelly; Follow her on Twitter: @KateKellyCNBC