Snapshot: Disturbing trends in median wealth of households

Last week, we highlighted that the vast majority of gains in wealth since 1983 accrued to the top 5 percent of households and actually declined for the bottom 60 percent. Perhaps the statistic that best illustrates the disparity is median wealth, which is the wealth of the household that has more wealth than half of households and less than the other half. If gains had been equal from 1983-2009, the typical household’s wealth would have risen to $100,900, up $29,000 from $71,900 in 1983. Instead, median wealth declined 13.5 percent to $62,200.

It is also sobering to examine the racial difference in wealth trends. Wealth for the median black household has nearly disappeared, falling from $6,300 in 1983 to $2,200 in 2009 – a decrease of more than 65 percent. This means half of black households have less than $2,200 in wealth. Among white households, median wealth has fallen substantially since 2007, but at $97,900, remains higher than the 1983 level of $94,100. White median wealth is now 44.5 times higher than black median wealth.

Racial disparities in income and unemployment have been exacerbated by the Great Recession, and the persistent high unemployment ahead of us will do more damage unless we create more jobs now.