Glass 45 Percent Full
By David Henderson
American households have rebuilt less than half of the wealth lost during the recession, leaving them without the spending power to fuel a robust economic recovery, according to a new analysis from the Federal Reserve.
From the peak of the boom to the bottom of the bust, households watched a total of $16 trillion in wealth disappear amid sinking stock prices and the rubble of the real estate market. Since then, Americans have only been able to recapture 45 percent of that amount on average, after adjusting for inflation and population growth, according to the report from the St. Louis Fed released Thursday.
This is from Ylan Q. Mui, “Americans have rebuilt less than half of wealth lost to the recession, study says,” Washington Post, May 30.
The news report does not link to the St. Louis Fed study, but here is the link. The study is quite short.
The whole tone of the article is negative. Yet to me it seemed like good news, relative to my priors. I was surprised at how much of the wealth loss has been recovered. We are, essentially, half way back from the depths.
Of course, as the Washington Post article reports, there is something to be negative about: that most of the comeback is in stock values and, therefore, has not much touched households that had few investments in stocks to begin with.
Take a look at the study and you’ll see the disparate averages by demographic characteristics.
One of the numbers that surprised me was the one for the category most descriptive of my family’s demographics: Families headed by someone who is white or Asian, 62 years old or more, with a two- or four-year college degree. The average net worth in the fourth quarter of 2012, in 2010 dollars, was $1.95 million. Given that most of the increase was in stock values and that stocks have gained substantially since then, and that there has been some inflation since 2010, this number today, in 2013 dollars, would be over $2 million and possibly $2.1 million or $2.2 million. I’ve thought for a long time that my wife and I were doing well, but we are well below that average.
But notice the word “average.” What that reflects, I’m willing to bet, is the huge wealth of the top million families in that category. Our family’s wealth, I’m sure, is well above the median for that category.