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The Asset Price Meltdown and the Wealth of the Middle Class

The Asset Price Meltdown and the Wealth of the Middle Class

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Published by Patricia Dillon
lowest level since 1969. Moreover, inequality of net worth, after almost two decades of little movement, rose sharply between 2007
and 2010. Inequalities rose by income class, by race/ethnicity, and across age
groups. ... The steep drop in asset prices, especially housing, hit the middle class harder.
-

Report 05012013
lowest level since 1969. Moreover, inequality of net worth, after almost two decades of little movement, rose sharply between 2007
and 2010. Inequalities rose by income class, by race/ethnicity, and across age
groups. ... The steep drop in asset prices, especially housing, hit the middle class harder.
-

Report 05012013

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Categories:Types, Research
Published by: Patricia Dillon on May 08, 2013
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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11/06/2013

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us
2010
discover america in a new century
 This report has been peer-reviewed by the Advisory Boardof the US2010 Project. Viewsexpressed here are those of the authors.
US2010 Project
John R. Logan, DirectorBrian Stults, Associate Director
Advisory Board
Margo AndersonSuzanne BianchiBarry BluestoneSheldon DanzigerClaude FischerDaniel LichterKenneth Prewitt
Sponsors
Russell Sage FoundationAmerican Communities Projectof Brown University
 The Asset Price Melt-down and the Wealthof the Middle Class
Edward N. Wolff 
Department of Economics, New York University 
Report Abstract
May 2013
After rising sharply through 2007, the collapse of the stock market and the suddencollapse in home prices took an immense toll on the assets of the middle class. This report summarizes what happened and why.2010, and by 2010 was at its lowest level since 1969. Moreover, inequality of networth, after almost two decades of little movement, rose sharply between 2007and 2010. Inequalities rose by income class, by race/ethnicity, and across agegroups.-2007 period (6.0 percent per year). But the steep drop in asset prices during theAmericans and was the main cause of increasing wealth inequality after 2007.Similar trends are found for racial and age inequalities. Blacks and Hispanicsincreased their net worth relative to whites during 2001-2007 as did young adultsin relation to older Americans, mainly because so much of their assets were tied upin home ownership. But these gains were wiped out during the recession.
 
1
 
Summary of major findings
 
The last two decades have witnessed some remarkable events in terms of personal wealth. After rising sharply through 2007, the collapse of the stock market and the sudden collapse in home pricestook an immense toll on many Americans. What happened and why is an amazing story about theGreat Recession and its repercussions.
 
Median wealth plummeted over the years 2007 to 2010.
 
 
Middle class debt exploded from 1983 to 2007, already creating a highly fragile middle class.Their situation worsened during the Great Recession. As a result inequality of net worth,after almost two decades of little movement, rose sharply between 2007 and 2010.
 
The racial and ethnic disparity in wealth widened considerably in the years between 2007and 2010. Blacks and especially Hispanics lost in net worth and net equity in their homes.
 
Young households (under age 45) also were pummeled by the Great Recession, as their wealth declined sharply both in absolute terms and in comparison with older households.
 
Data sources and methods
 
This study focuses mainly on how the middle class fared in terms of wealth over the years2007 to 2010 during one of the sharpest declines in stock and real estate prices. I also investigatetrends in wealth inequality, changes in the racial wealth gap, wealth differences by age, and trendsin home ownership rates. The period covered spans the years from 1962 to 2010. The choice of years is dictated by the availability of survey data. By 2010, we are able to see what the fall-out wasfrom the financial crisis and associated recession.
 
The primary data source is the
Survey of Consumer Finances
(SCF) conducted by theFederal Reserve Board. Each survey consists of a core representative sample combined with ahigh-income supplement. The high income supplement was selected from a sample derived fromtax data from the IRS
Statistics of Income
. This second sample was designed to disproportionatelyselect families that were likely to be relatively wealthy. Typically, about two thirds of the casescome from the representative sample and one third from the high-income supplement.
1
 The principal wealth concept used here is marketable wealth (or net worth), which is defined as the current value of all marketable or fungible assets less the current value of debts. Net worth is

1
Two other data sources are also used: the 1962 Survey of Financial Characteristics of Consumers, alsoconducted by the Federal Reserve Board, and the 1969 MESP file, a synthetic dataset based on the 1970 Census of Population with matched records from the 1969 Internal Revenue Survey Tax Model.
 
2
 
thus the difference in value between total assets and total liabilities or debt. Total assets are defined as the sum of (1) owner-occupied housing (2) other real estate (3) demand deposits (4) time and savings deposits, certificates of deposit, and money market accounts (5) government, corporate, and foreign bonds and other financial securities (6) the cash surrender value of life insurance plans (7)the cash surrender value of pension plans, including IRAs, Keogh, and 401(k) plans (8) corporatestock and mutual funds (9) net equity in unincorporated businesses; and (10) equity in trust funds.Total liabilities are the sum of (1) mortgage debt (2) consumer debt, and (3) other debt.This measure reflects wealth as a store of value and therefore a source of potentialconsumption. In particular, consumer durables such as automobiles and furniture are excluded here,since these items are not easily marketed, with the possible exception of vehicles, or their resalevalue typically far understates the value of their consumption services to the household. Alsoexcluded is the value of future Social Security benefits the family may receive upon retirement(usually referred to as "Social Security wealth"), as well as the value of retirement benefits from private pension plans ("pension wealth"). Even though these funds are a source of future income tofamilies, they are not in their direct control and cannot be marketed.
The housing value cycle
 
 Nationally, median house prices were virtually the same in 2001 as in 1989 in real terms.
2
 With real incomes rising, the home ownership rate shot up over this period from 62.8 percent in1989 to 67.7 percent, according to data from the
Survey of Consumer Finances
(SCF). Then, evenas the nation faced the 2001 recession (albeit a short one), house prices suddenly took off. Themedian sales price of existing one-family homes rose by 18 percent in real terms in just three years.However, from 2004 to 2007 housing prices slowed, with the median sales price advancing only 1.7 percent over these years in real terms. As such, over the years 2001 to 2007 real housing pricesincreased by 19 percent. The home ownership rate continued to expand, though at a somewhatslower rate, from 67.7 to 68.6 percent.
 
Then, the Great Recession and the associated financial crisis hit at the end of 2007 and asset prices plummeted. From 2007 to 2010, the median price of existing homes nose-dived by 24

2
The source for housing price data, unless otherwise indicated, is Table 935 of the
2009 Statistical Abstract 
, USBureau of the Census, available at [http://www.census.gov/compendia/statab/].

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