Has Wealth Increased for Everyone?

The Federal Reserve recently released its latest wealth report, and it was upbeat, says host Mary Walden. “Does this mean we should all be happy?” she asks her husband, N.C. State University economist Mike Walden.

Mike Walden: Well, Mary, overall it was a good report. Of course, household wealth — that is what people own minus their liabilities — took a big hit during the recession, down about fifteen to seventeen trillion dollars. Both financial wealth and real-estate wealth were down, but they turned the corner. Since about 2009, wealth has been increasing, and, as you indicated, the latest report continued to say that. In fact, household wealth is now at a record high. But, very importantly, there seems to be a demarcation point in terms of age between those who are enjoying this rebirth of wealth and those who are not. And the demarcation point seems to be the age of 40. People over the age of 40 are seeing their wealth go up; they’re seeing the value of their homes and the value their financial assets go up. Those are the people who also really cut back on their debt during the recession. But households under 40, not so much: They’re not enjoying this wealth boom. I think a big part of the reason is they simply don’t have a lot of money in the financial market, which has really boomed. So, we do have this division in wealth. And many economists think that, because the folks under the age of 40 are not enjoying this wealth boom, that’s why we’ve not seen a big surge in spending, which we typically see when wealth goes up.

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