Welcome to 1992. That’s where most middle-income families found themselves in terms of household wealth after three years of recession, 2007 to 2010, wiped out two decades of gains.
These numbers do not come from think tanks and interest groups seeking to influence the tax-cut debate, but from the Federal Reserve Board, which makes the statistics even scarier.
Hardest hit in terms of suffering the biggest percentage losses in wealth and income was the middle class, according to the Fed.
Median net worth plunged 39 percent — “collapsed” is more like it — in those three years from $126,400 in 2007 to $77,300 in 2010.
The main culprit was the free fall in the price of houses, most families’ principal asset. The median value of a family’s stake in their home fell 42 percent to $55,000. It is accepted wisdom among economists that the nation’s economic recovery will continue to be sluggish until the housing market recovers.
There is good news, in a sense, that foreigners are flocking to the U.S. real estate market, buying up $82.5 billion, about 9 percent, of the residential property sold in March, up 24 percent from the year before, according to the National Association of Realtors.
But these tend to be high-end properties bought up by foreigners looking to park their money in a safe haven. These sales do little good to the sprawling middle-class and blue-collar subdivisions hardest hit by foreclosures and short sales. In other bad news for the middle class, median income fell almost 8 percent, from $49,600 to $45,800, and the median value of stock-market-based retirement accounts fell 7 percent to $44,000.
Americans are carrying significantly less credit-card debt, down 16 percent from $3,100 in 2007 to $2,600 in 2010, which is not terribly good news for economically all-important consumer spending. But the median level of family debt remained unchanged, thanks to a fast-rising form of indebtedness — education loans.
This particular Fed survey is conducted every three years. Let’s hope that 2013’s shows a middle class fully restored to prosperity and that the American dream is still a dream and not a roll of the dice.