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Minorities, Americans without college degrees showed greatest gains in wealth

WASHINGTON — Nearly all Americans have now emerged from the Great Recession with more money than before — with African-American and Hispanic families and Americans without college degrees showing the greatest gains, according to data released Wednesday from the Federal Reserve.

It's a sign that the recovery from the devastating Great Recession and financial crisis of 2008 is picking up as more people are able to get jobs, pay off debt and invest more.

Household wealth for African-American and Hispanic families and Americans without high school diplomas rose the fastest from 2013 to 2016, according to the Fed's Survey of Consumer Finances, which surveys more than 6,000 households about their pay, debt and other finances.

Every slice of America — from young to old and rich to poor — saw their incomes grow and the value of stocks, homes and other assets climb.

But the Fed was also quick to point out growing inequality between the mega rich and everyone else, and between whites and nonwhites.

The income gains marked a dramatic shift from the period of 2010 to 2013, when income fell for all racial and ethnic groups except whites.

"We're glad the recovery is spreading to a lot of households," Fed economists said Wednesday.

The economists didn't elaborate on what caused the widespread gains, but they did note that the unemployment rate has fallen substantially in recent years from 7.5 percent to 5 percent last year.

The median net worth of a white household was $171,000, nearly 10 times that of black households. The median net worth of African-American and Hispanic families was below $21,000. While minority families have seen the biggest percentage gains in recent years, they are starting from a much lower point.

The same was true of Americans without high school diplomas. Their median net worth is just $23,000. That's the sum of the home, their savings, stock holdings and other assets, minus all debts. Median net worth jumps to $67,000 and it soars to almost $300,000 for people with college degrees. The wealthiest and best-educated families continue to pull away from everyone else.

"Shares of income and wealth held by affluent families have reached historically high levels," the Fed wrote in its report.

The share of America's income held by the top 1 percent of households reached 24 percent in 2016, a record high. In 1988, the top 1 percent held only 17 percent of the nation's income. The bull market on Wall Street and surging prices for mansions around the world are helping the super rich increase their millions and billions.

As the mega wealthy have seen their share of the total pie climb, the bottom 90 percent have lost ground. Last year, the bottom 90 percent took home less than half of America's total income for the first time since the Fed began calculating this statistic in the 1980s. In 1992, the bottom 90 percent captured over 60 percent of the income. It's been a steady decline since.

Economists said the large financial gains made by blacks and Hispanics, percentagewise, are mainly explained by the fact that the two groups had far less money to begin with, compared to whites, and so any increase as a result of the nation's economic recovery would appear to be disproportionately large.

"You're looking at people with lower net worth, so when the economy recovers, you are going to see them benefit disproportionately as a percentage," said Jeffrey Eisenach, an economist and managing director at NERA Economic Consulting, which released a study in December on Latino prosperity.

"If you're poor and you go through a tough period, you use all your savings to get through it," Eisenach said. "If you go from having very little to doubling that, you still may not have very much, but you see a big percentage gain."

Given the persistent wealth gap between white families and minorities, Eisenach said he is optimistic that the gains are a "big sign of hope" toward slowly narrowing the chasm. He expects to see the trend continue because his study showed that Hispanics are disproportionately entrepreneurial, have high rates of workforce participation and have a propensity toward saving.

They are also a young demographic group compared to whites, he said: Young Hispanics are working, whereas older whites may not be making as much as they used to.

"What you have is a hardworking entrepreneurial group which is getting ahead in America," Eisenach said.

Minorities, Americans without college degrees showed greatest gains in wealth 09/27/17 [Last modified: Wednesday, September 27, 2017 9:13pm]
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