NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Families' Wealth Dives 39 Percent in 3 Years

June 13, 2012

The median U.S. household lost nearly 39 percent of its wealth from 2007 to 2010, according to a Federal Reserve report released Monday, emphasizing anew the impact of the financial crisis and the recession on ordinary Americans, says USA Today.

Middle-class families took the biggest hit to their net worth during the crunch because much of their wealth was in their homes, whose values plunged during the recession and in its aftermath, the Fed report says.  Wealthier families saw a smaller drop in their incomes, but nowhere near as much impact on their net worth.

The impact a given family felt varied depending on where they live, how much they earn and what kind of investments they had, says Scott Hoyt, an economist at Moody's Analytics.

  • Overall, median household net worth slid to 1992 levels after adjusting for inflation, wiping out the gains of the late-1990s Internet boom and the post-2000 housing surge, says the Fed.
  • The median family's net worth dropped to $77,300 from $126,400 in 2007.
  • The wealthiest 10 percent of families saw their median net worth rise 1.9 percent to $1.17 million.
  • Household net worth peaked at $66 trillion before the recession hit in December 2007 and fell to $54 trillion in 2008, according to the Fed.
  • It was $63 trillion in the first quarter this year, but that doesn't reflect the stock market's fall since.
  • The Fed estimates Americans lost $7 trillion in home equity due to a housing bust that followed a surge in mortgage defaults after 2006.

Movements in the housing and stock markets suggest that middle-class households probably have not regained much of their lost ground since 2010.

  • The Standard & Poor's 500-stock index is up 4.1 percent since the end of that year.
  • Housing prices have kept declining, falling 1.9 percent in the 12 months ended in March, according to the S&P/Case-Shiller composite index.

Incomes improved in late 2011 but have begun sliding again this year, say Gordon Green, cofounder of Sentier Research.

Source: Tim Mullaney, "Families' Wealth Dives 39 Percent in 3 Years," USA Today, June 12, 2012. Jesse Bricker et al., "Changes in U.S. Family Finances from 2007 to 2010: Evidence from the Survey of Consumer Finances," Federal Reserve, June 2012.

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