Thursday, June 9, 2011

Americans' Lost Trillions in Household Wealth (Chart) *Down $7.7 trillion since Spring 2007*

USA Household Wealth was $58.1 trillion at March 31, 2011 

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- One reason that the U.S. economy still struggles to achieve sustained growth is that Americans are a long way from recovering the trillions of dollars of household wealth lost during the Great Recession.

U.S. household wealth fell by about $16.4 trillion of net worth from its peak in spring 2007, about six months before the start of the recession, to when things hit bottom in the first quarter of 2009, according to figures from the Federal Reserve.

While a rebound in the stock market, an improved savings rate and consumer steps to reduce debt resulted in net worth gains since 2009, only a little more than half of that lost wealth - $8.7 trillion -- is back on household balance sheets.

So the economy won't see the benefit of consumers spending at that level again anytime in the foreseeable future.

That leaves American household wealth $7.7 trillion less than it was before the recession.

"The huge loss of consumption is due to loss of $8 trillion in bubble wealth," said Dean Baker, co-director of Center for Economic and Policy Research.

The gap that remains in household wealth is in stark contrast to the nation's gross national product, the broadest measure of economic activity, which has recovered all of the lost output of the recession. And the wealth gap helps to explain why consumers are still so reluctant to spend a full two years after the official end of the recession.

Much of the lost household wealth came from declines in the value of real estate, which dropped $6 trillion, or nearly 30% of its value, from the end of 2006 to the end of last year. And after posting modest gains in 2009 and the first half of 2010, the value of homes started to fall again in mid-2010.

"Why are we surprised that they're not spending? They were spending based on wealth that isn't there now," said Baker.