Economic Snapshot | Wages, Incomes, and Wealth

State of Working America preview: The rich get richer

America’s wealthiest households in 2009 had net worth that was 225 times greater than the median family net worth.  As the Figure from EPI’s forthcoming State of Working America (SWA) nWeb site shows, that ratio between those at the top and everyone else reached a record high in 2009.

Wealth, or net worth, is a measure of a family’s total assets, including real estate, bank account balances, stock holdings, and  retirement funds, minus all of their liabilities such as mortgages, student loans, and credit card debt. Although economic inequality is often described in terms of income inequality, the distribution of wealth is actually more unequal than the distribution of wages and income. And, while wages and income provide some indication of a family’s ability to afford essentials like housing, food, and health care, accumulated assets, or wealth, can make it easier for them to invest in education and training, start a business, fund a retirement, and otherwise invest in their future. Since accumulated assets also provide a cushion against job loss and other financial emergencies, this growing wealth disparity shows why some households are more devastated by unemployment, illness, and other factors that cause a temporary loss of income. 

(See also: The poor are getting poorer)

As part of the launch early next year of the State of Working America (SWA) Web site, EPI has been previewing data from some of the key themes covered in SWA. These previews are attached below.

Health: A staggering rise in health insurance costs

Mobility: Whites more upwardly mobile than blacks

Poverty: Poor children

Jobs: 17% of workers cannot find the amount of work they want

Wages: The declining value of minimum wage

International: A world of difference in child care funding

Income: Income inequality in dollars and cents

See related work on Wages, Incomes, and Wealth