During the first two years of the nation’s economic recovery, the mean net worth of households in the upper 7 percent of the wealth distribution rose by an estimated 28 percent, while the mean net worth of households in the lower 93 percent dropped by 4 percent, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of newly released Census Bureau data.
From 2009 to 2011, the mean wealth of the 8 million households in the more affluent group rose to an estimated $3,173,895 from an estimated $2,476,244, while the mean wealth of the 111 million households in the less affluent group fell to an estimated $133,817 from an estimated $139,896.
These wide variances were driven by the fact that the stock and bond market rallied during the 2009 to 2011 period, while the housing market remained flat.
Affluent households typically have their assets concentrated in stocks and other financial holdings, while less affluent households typically have their wealth more heavily concentrated in the value of their home.
From the end of the recession in 2009 through 2011 (the last year for which Census Bureau wealth data are available), the 8 million households in the U.S. with a net worth above $836,033 saw their aggregate wealth rise by an estimated $5.6 trillion, while the 111 million households with a net worth at or below that level saw their aggregate wealth decline by an estimated $0.6 trillion.
Because of these differences, wealth inequality increased during the first two years of the recovery. The upper 7 percent of households saw their aggregate share of the nation’s overall household wealth pie rise to 63 percent in 2011, up from 56 percent in 2009. On an individual household basis, the mean wealth of households in this more affluent group was almost 24 times that of those in the less affluent group in 2011. At the start of the recovery in 2009, that ratio had been less than 18-to-1.
(The focus in this report on the upper 7 percent of households rather than some other share of high wealth households reflects the limits of the tabulations published by the Census Bureau. The boundaries of its wealth categories dictated the split of households analyzed in this report.)
Overall, the wealth of America’s households rose by $5 trillion, or 14 percent, during this period, from $35.2 trillion in 2009 to $40.2 trillion in 2011. Household wealth is the sum of all assets, such as a home, car, real property, a 401(k), stocks and other financial holdings, minus the sum of all debts, such as a mortgage, car loan, credit card debt and student loans…
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