The latest Survey of Consumer Finances, a triennial look at American households’ financial condition, provides a detailed snapshot of the country just before it was rocked by a recession that arrived with hurricane force out of the blue sky of the longest economic expansion on record.
It reveals low- and middle-income earners were finally starting to see some wage increases as unemployment dropped to 3.5 percent. And their average wealth climbed as home values and the stock market both gained value.
Yet the gains weren’t enough to make a dent in the wealth gap. The top 1 percent own about a third of the nation’s wealth, near the 30-year high for that population. The poorer half of the country, meanwhile, claim roughly 2 percent of the overall wealth.
The richest tenth of households have seen their share of the wealth increase over the past three decades, while the other 90 percent have seen theirs slide, the report finds.
The report underscores a point Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden has sought to emphasize on the campaign trail: Economic inequality was already an intractable problem before it was supercharged by pandemic shutdowns disproportionately targeting lower-income workers. President Trump, meanwhile, has argued the portion of the expansion he presided over was delivering solid gains to minority populations before the pandemic hit.
But the report also highlights how White families enjoyed huge advantages even before the recession.
“Even during the boom-time final stretch of a record economic expansion, the typical White family had eight times the wealth of a typical Black family in 2019, and five times the wealth of a typical Hispanic family,” Rachel Siegel reports of the survey’s findings. “Last year, the median wealth for Black families was less than 15 percent that of White families … White families had