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New Study Shows Record-Setting Wealth Gap

Eric Justian headshotWords by Eric Justian
Investment & Markets
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The Holidays! Food! Fun! Festivities! Gifts! Oh man ... oh so many gifts for the little ones and the family, cookies for neighbors, charity just a bit, traditional foods. Oof. For many Americans, mixed in with the fun is maybe just a twinge of another reminder of how broke we are despite a rising economy. A Pew Research Center survey of consumer finances shows a story of stagnating wealth for most Americans, while only high-income Americans are seeing gains.

With the Great Recession of 2007-2009 falling in the rear view mirror, American families have yet to recover the wealth they had just 10 years ago. Everybody across the board lost wealth from that crap storm. During the recession, lower-income families lost 41 percent of their wealth, middle-income families lost about 39 percent of their wealth, and upper-income families lost 17 percent of their wealth.

Since then almost nobody regained their lost wealth. In fact, post recession, most American families are in about the same place they were over 20 years ago wealth-wise, the study found. The lowest income families have actually lost ground from the early 1990s.

The one exception to this, of course, are the higher-income families who have begun to recover their lost wealth. Unlike everybody else, they've seen their wealth double from $318,100 in 1983 to $639,400 in 2013.

With higher-income families gaining wealth, and everybody else staying static since the recession, we've hit a record high in wealth disparity between the upper-income families and all other families in the United States. 2013, the latest year on record since the Federal Reserve started tracking consumer finance data, shows that the wealth of upper-income families ($639,400) is nearly seven times the wealth of middle-income families ($96,500). It's the highest gap recorded.

And if that weren't enough, wealth for the higher-income families is nearly 70 times the wealth of lower-income families ($9,300). Keep in mind we're not talking about income here. We're talking about wealth.

So, what does this mean? The act of pointing out the wealth gap is festooned with fun political hot-buttons we can all push in the comment threads ... all of which comfortably avoid a serious national conversation of why most of us are stuck in the mud. We can decry Obama, we can decry Bush, we can drag it all back to Reagan or even FDR for the sake of spirited political puffery. We can preemptively assume such a conversation is just a pretense for redistributing wealth and ignore the data, or even suggest that redistribution is a solution.

Ultimately, though, these are just data points showing very real stagnation for most Americans since the Great Recession. And it raises the question: Why is one segment of the population regaining its wealth while an overwhelming majority of the population is not?

It's no wonder Americans aren't particularly enthusiastic about the economic "recovery." We haven't felt it at all.

Image credit: Daniel Borman: Source

Eric Justian headshotEric Justian

Eric Justian is a professional writer living near the natural sugar sand beaches and singing sand dunes of Lake Michigan in Muskegon, Michigan. When he's not wrangling his kids or tapping at his computer, he likes to putter in his garden, catch king salmon from the Big Lake, or go pan fishing with his boys. As a successful blogger his main focus has been energy, Great Lakes issues and local food. Eric is a founding member of the West Michgian Jobs Group, a non-profit organization that evolved from a Facebook page called Yest to West Michigan Wind Power which now has over 8000 followers. West Michigan Jobs Group promotes independent businesses and sustainable industries in the West Michigan area. As the Executive Director of that organization he has advocated renewable energy as both a clean energy alternative for Michigan and a new industry with which to diversify our economy and spark Michigan innovation and jobs.

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