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The Great Recession hammered finances for millions of Americans. But not the lucky few who work for the nation’s four largest banks. Even in the midst of the recession, these employees continued to receive major pay raises, according to a new report by BankRegData.com, a bank consulting firm.

Four banks in America have assets over $1 trillion: JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America, Citigroup and Wells Fargo. In 2003, the average employee at a large bank made $70,649—nearly 50% more than their small-bank colleagues.  Today, that same employee makes $96,355—a 36% increase over a seven-year span. Only in 2008, when the Great Recession hit, did Big Four pay rates fail to increase during that seven-year period. Since then, pay raises have increased even faster than they did during the housing boom.

“The biggest banks, they are basically paying themselves $14,000 more per employee now than they were before the crisis,” says Bill Moreland, founder of BankRegData.com. “They have continued to grow at an unbelievably quick rate.”

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At small banks, with under $99 million in assets, it’s a different story. In contrast to the rate of pay increase of large banks, the average small-bank worker made only 27% more in 2010 than he did in 2003. Much of the that increase is attributable to a need to keep up with rising inflation rates and health care costs, Moreland says. Since 2003, what had been a steady rise in small-bank employees’ annual incomes peaked at $61,720 in 2008, after which incomes held steady or even went down a tad.

It’s not as though large bank employees can claim to be doing a significantly better job than workers at other banks, according to reports by BankRegData.com. A bank’s financial health can be measured by something called the Texas ratio, akin to a credit score for financial institutions. In this measurement, which takes into consideration a bank’s bad assets and its capital and loan loss reserves, a lower score means healthier finances.

The four largest banks have a Texas Ratio of 32.43, more than twice as bad as the 15.09 average boasted by the smallest banks. Big banks also have double the rate of bad, non-performing loans. And they’ve been forced to modify their loans at three times the ratio of small banks.

All of which means that small banks are doing a better job of giving out safe loans and keeping their financial houses in order, Moreland says, even though their employees make far less than workers at big banks.

Image: Andrew Magill, via Flickr

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