Americans’ Financial Well-Being Improved in Mid-2010s — Fed Survey

Most American families grew richer between 2013 and 2016, but the wealthiest households pulled even further ahead, worsening the nation’s massive disparities in wealth and income. But the wealthy gained the most, driven largely by gains in the stock market and asset values. Unlike the previous three-year survey period from 2010 to 2013, when incomes fell in all brackets except the highest-earning 10 percent, incomes for 2013 to 2016 rose in all brackets.

Average housing wealth – the value of a home, minus mortgages and other debt – rose 20 percent a year ago from 2016. Those differences between the median and average mostly reflect stronger gains at the top of the income scale.

Not part of the top 10 percent?

The findings are in partial contrast to an economic narrative of stagnation, particularly among lower-income and less-educated workers, that has driven US politics in recent years from the Occupy Wall Street movement to the election of Donald Trump.

Median wealth for an African-American family was $17,600 past year, up 29 percent from 2013. In 2007, half of families had a net worth of $139,700 or more and half fell below this level. That’s a much bigger gain than the 17 percent increase for whites. Almost 52 percent of families reported owning stocks, up from 48.8 percent in the previous period.

The Fed also broke down their measures by where families live.

Overall the results “represents a return to a general pattern of substantial increases in both the median and the mean… dating back to the early 1990s”.

The disparities exist along lines of income, race and ethnicity, and between cities and rural dwellers. Rising home prices have also restored some wealth to middle income families.

Households’ median net worth, or wealth, rose 16% in the same period, reflecting broadening gains to Americans as the economy grew 2.2% a year on average, inflation stayed low and the unemployment rate fell.

Notably, the percentage of families with retirement accounts also reversed its recent decline, rising to 52 percent from 49 percent.

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