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The problem behind Wall Street's recruiting machine

Josh Barro, responding in part to my interview with Kevin Roose, says that Wall Street can be a great place for young graduates to go out and learn useful skills. "The key is to be the right banker at the right bank":

At Wells Fargo, being a junior banker didn't mean a terrible work-life balance. I typically worked about 50 hours a week. For my work, I was paid at an annual rate of $85,000 in my first year and $125,000 in my third, including bonus. That's not as much as the Goldman Sachs analysts I knew were making, but it's about as much per hour, and in any case it's a lot of money for a 23-year-old.

Most important, my work at Wells Fargo was both analytically challenging and socially useful. There are lots of bankers doing work that is detached from the nonfinancial economy or harmful to it. I wasn't one of them. Real estate project finance is essential for creating the built environment where we live and work, and we got to see tangible results as the buildings we financed were built.

I don't have a problem with any of that. But the larger question raised by Roose's book is how so many young people are graduating from Ivy League schools without feeling like they've learned useful work skills. That's the anxiety — and perhaps the reality — that Wall Street is taking advantage of, and it speaks to a deeper problem that the banking sector didn't cause and shouldn't be in charge of fixing.

Also relevant to this conversation: Harvard's poll of graduating seniors still shows many fewer going to Wall Street than in 2007.