A Pew Research analysis of newly released Census Bureau data finds that the mean net worth of households in the upper 7% of the wealth distribution rose by an estimated 28%, while the mean net worth of households in the lower 93% dropped by 4%.
From 2009 to 2011, the mean wealth of the 8 million households in the more affluent group rose to an estimated $3.17 million from an estimated $2.48 million, while the mean wealth of the 111 million households in the less affluent group fell to an estimated $133,817 from an estimated $139,896.
These wide variances were driven by the fact that the stock and bond market rallied during the period while the housing market remained flat, Pew argues.
Affluent households typically have their assets concentrated in stocks and other financial holdings, while less affluent households typically have their wealth more heavily concentrated in the value of their home.
Because of these differences, wealth inequality increased during the first two years of the economic recovery. The upper 7% of households saw their aggregate share of the nation’s overall household wealth pie rise to 63% in 2011, up from 56% in 2009. On an individual household basis, the mean wealth of households in this more affluent group was almost 24 times that of those in the less affluent group in 2011. At the start of the recovery in 2009, that ratio had been less than 18-to-1.
Overall, the wealth of America’s households rose by $5 trillion, or 14%, during this period, to $40.2 trillion in 2011 from $35.2 trillion in 2009.
During the period under study, the S&P 500 rose by 34% (and has since risen by an additional 26%), while the S&P/Case-Shiller home price index fell by 5%, continuing a steep slide that began with the crash of the housing market in 2006.
The different performance of financial asset and housing markets from 2009 to 2011 explains virtually all of the variances in the trajectories of wealth holdings among affluent and less affluent households during this period.
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 prerecession data published by the Census Bureau.
Looking at the period from 2005 to 2009, Census data show that mean net worth declined by 12% for households as a whole but remained unchanged for households with a net worth of $500,000 and more. Households in that top wealth category had a mean of $1.59 million in wealth in 2005, $1.59 million in 2009 and $1.92 million in 2011.
Read Despite Higher Taxes, Affluent Americans Will Continue to Spend on AdvisorOne.