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Bank of America ‘We Hope Conditions for American Workers Will Get Worse’ Memo

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In a late July 2022 leaked memo, Bank of America said: "we hope conditions for American workers will get worse."

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On July 31 2022, posts to Twitter and Reddit referenced signs about a leaked Bank of America memo and a quote — “we hope conditions for American workers get worse”:

In the tweet embedded above, four images of red and white signs appeared. On Reddit, the image in the upper left corner accompanied two separate posts to different subreddits:

Work of Antifa or Proud Boys? from Anarcho_Capitalism

That close up image included a Bank of America ATM in the background. A sign in the foreground read:

LEAKED MEMO:

BANK OF AMERICA

“WE HOPE CONDITIONS FOR AMERICAN WORKERS GET WORSE.”

BOYCOTT BANK OF AMERICA

On social media, the signs were very popular. However, the embedded Reddit thread above was titled, “Work of Antifa or Proud Boys?”, and many readers did not seem to have much context for the content of the signs.

It appeared the signs were batch printed and posted outside a Bank of America branch, and aside from the transcribed text, they included no information about a leaked Bank of America memo. Based solely on their verbiage, the signage implied that “we hope conditions for American workers get worse” was a direct quote from Bank of America.

A search for “Bank of America” and “we hope conditions get worse” returned only four results as of August 1 2022. Another search (without quotes) led to a July 29 2022 article from The Intercept; its title differed slightly from the wording on the signs:

BANK OF AMERICA MEMO, REVEALED: “WE HOPE” CONDITIONS FOR AMERICAN WORKERS WILL GET WORSE

Phrasing of that headline was similar, with one important difference. “We hope” was in quotes (suggesting a direct quote from the memo in question), whereas “conditions for American workers” was not (implying that portion was paraphrased).

It began:

A BANK OF AMERICA executive stated that “we hope” working Americans will lose leverage in the labor market in a recent private memo obtained by The Intercept. Making predictions for clients about the U.S. economy over the next several years, the memo also noted that changes in the percentage of Americans seeking jobs “should help push up the unemployment rate.”

The memo, a “Mid-year review” from June 17 [2022], was written by Ethan Harris, the head of global economics research for the corporation’s investment banking arm, Bank of America Securities. Its specific aspiration: “By the end of next year, we hope the ratio of job openings to unemployed is down to the more normal highs of the last business cycle.”

Broadly, the article analyzed sentiments in the June 2022 Bank of America memo, including additional, partial quotes about “a record tight labor market” and “wage pressures” favoring higher average compensation for workers. The article observed that in practice, wage growth was not unfavorable to American workers:

[A] recent, unusual moment of worker leverage made Bank of America quite anxious. The memo expresses distress about “a record tight labor market,” stating that “wage pressures are … going to be hard to reverse. While there may have been some one-off increases in some pockets of the labor market, the upward pressure extends to virtually every industry, income and skill level.”

The memo recalls a previous Bank of America memo in 2021, which it says warned of “very strong momentum in the labor market, suggesting the economy would not just hit but blow through full employment. Fast forward to today, and these trends have been worse than expected.” … The perspective of working Americans would, generally, be exactly the opposite. For most of us, it’s fantastic to have lots of jobs available, with employers competing for you. A tight labor market is wonderful. Wage pressures are great. From this viewpoint, the key issue right now would be how to lower inflation while keeping employment and worker power high.

The Intercept embedded a copy of the June 2022 Bank of America memo, hosted on another site. The actual phrasing is quoted in part in an excerpt above, and it was about the labor pool’s “participation rate,” an estimate of the active workforce in an economy.

That section (on pages one and two) read:

A modest further rise in the participation rate should help push up the unemployment rate, but we think most of the increase will likely come from weaker demand for workers. By the end of next year [2023], we hope the ratio of job openings to unemployed is down to the more normal highs of the last business cycle. Keep a close eye on this metric and timely indicators of labor market balance like jobless claims and survey questions on the job market.

On July 31 2022, signs about a leaked memo from Bank of America (“we hope conditions get worse for American workers”) circulated on Twitter and Reddit, almost always without any reference to the source of the quote. The signs appeared to reference a July 29 2022 headline from an article by The Intercept, “BANK OF AMERICA MEMO, REVEALED: ‘WE HOPE’ CONDITIONS FOR AMERICAN WORKERS WILL GET WORSE.” The Intercept linked to a copy of the Bank of America memo in question, but the headline was paraphrased from a portion of the memo about the participation rate and a hope that “the ratio of job openings to unemployed” dropped in order to reduce “wage pressures.”