An Uneven Recovery, 2009-2011

A new report released by the Pew Research Center shows that the wealthy benefited the most from the recovery in 2009 to 2011. The wealthiest 7% saw their net-worth’s rise by 28% on average. This means that their estimated wealth rose from $2.48 million in 2009 to about $3.17 million in 2011. Unfortunately, the bottom 93% of the nation did not share in this prosperity. This group actually saw their net worth fall by about 4% from $139,896 in 2009 to $133,817 in 2011. As Pew Research Center explains, this difference between the bottom 93% and the top 7% can partly be explained by taking into account the role of stocks and bonds, which thrived during the recovery and the fact that wealthier Americans tend to invest more in both stocks and bonds. In contrast, the housing market remained in a poor condition during most of the recovery and for the bottom 93%, their home comprises the bulk share of their net worth. Not surprisingly, wealth inequality also rose during the recovery.

Pew also notes that the recent Census Bureau data indicates that the bottom 93% were also less likely to own stocks and mutual funds in 2011 than in 2009. In 2009, 16% of the less affluent directly owned stocks or mutual funds but by 2011 this figure dropped to 13%. Also, a small share of the less affluent had individual retirement accounts in 2011 than in 2009 but the number of affluent people with a 401(k) remained steady at 39% for both 2009 and 2011. A smaller share of the top 7% also owned stocks or mutual funds in 2011 than in 2009 but more owned IRA’s and had more in their 401(k) in 2011 than in 2009.

Overall, net worth per household in the U.S. in 2011 made up nearly all the ground it had lost since 2005—$338,950 versus $340,252 in 2005, the latest pre-recession data published by the Census Bureau. 

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