Occupy Wall Street reacts to Goldman Sachs pay

@CNNMoney October 20, 2011: 2:06 PM ET

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- Goldman Sachs has set aside $10 billion for staff pay so far this year, or roughly $292,000 per employee. That's down $78,000 from last year.

Sound like a big drop? Try telling that to the folks at Occupy Wall Street.

"I think it's ridiculous," said 31-year-old Amanda Seelen, a social worker who joined the gathering in Lower Manhattan on Tuesday. "I don't know how else to say it. It's ridiculous."

As the Occupy Wall Street rally stretches into its fifth week, inspiring similar demonstrations across the country and around the world, protestors have yet to coalesce around a single set of demands. They are clearly united, however, by their concerns about growing inequality and corporate excesses.

Few companies embody such excesses in the public mind more than Wall Street titan Goldman Sachs (GS, Fortune 500), which released its third quarter results on Tuesday and announced its second loss since going public in 1999.

Yet while the so-called vampire squid's profits are down nearly 75% for the first nine months of this year, its compensation expenses have only dropped about 25%.

As a share of overall revenue, these expenses are actually up 1% from last year, despite Goldman's weaker performance.

Those at Occupy Wall Street didn't need to parse the bank's earnings report to rail against its perceived profligacy.

"Do they really need all that?" asked Stephen Crawn, 22, who called for "more strict regulation" of the financial industry.

"For the future of our nation, there needs to be a change," he said.

Gabriel Brownstein, 45, called the compensation totals just one element of a disturbing broader trend.

"For 30 years, people have been cutting taxes, cutting regulations on Wall Street," he said. "They have made immense profits out of it, and it's not clear at all that the rest of the country has benefited."

A spokesman for Goldman declined to comment. The bank is not alone, though, in offering healthy bonuses despite the tough economic times. Citigroup's (C, Fortune 500) compensation expenses are up 6% from a year ago despite flat revenues, while compensation at Bank of America (BAC, Fortune 500) has risen 7% amid a 22% revenue drop.

Bill Charlton, 23, a research intern at the investment bank Berkery Noyes, has been watching the rally since the beginning from his office across the street. He said Wall Street pay might be "a little bit inflated", but added that it was important to keep the sheer scale of the industry in perspective.

"When you think about a company like Goldman Sachs, the amount of money that they're moving is vast," he said during a break from work on Tuesday. "When you're talking about a multi-billion dollar company, the higher-ups, they're going to get a lot of money out of it."

"I can understand that if you see and hear about some person making a multi-million dollar salary or bonus, that can be frustrating," he added. "I don't make a ton of money either, so it kind of sucks, but you can't really do anything about it."

Within Goldman itself, meanwhile, views of the outrage on display at Zuccotti Park are mixed, a current employee said in an email.

"No one likes to be demonized for their profession, so, sure, there are those around the floor that are pretty exasperated by the Occupy Wall Street movement," he said, asking to remain anonymous.

"With that said, I think a lot of us recognize that tough economic times will always breed discontent, and the Occupy Wall Street movement is just the latest manifestation of public frustration." To top of page

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