US middle class gets richer, but wealthy do even better

Markets Associated Press

Four thousand U.S. dollars are counted out by a banker counting currency at a bank in Westminster, Colorado November 3, 2009. REUTERS/Rick Wilking/File Photo - RTX2HVRI

Most American families grew richer between 2013 and 2016, but the wealthiest households pulled even further ahead, worsening the nation's massive disparities in wealth and income.

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The median net worth of all American families rose 16 percent last year from 2013 to $97,300, according to a Federal Reserve survey released Wednesday. The median is the point where half of families fall below and half above.

The figures echo recent data released earlier this month from the Census Bureau that also showed middle-class incomes rising. For roughly the first five years of the economic recovery that began in 2009, higher-earning households reaped most of the gain. But in 2015 and 2016, the low and falling unemployment rate has helped push up pay at all income levels. Rising home prices have also restored some wealth to middle income families.

But the Fed report starkly illustrates the depth of the nation's wealth and income gaps. The disparities exist along lines of income, race and ethnicity, and between cities and rural dwellers.

Even as median income rose, average income rose more quickly, by 14 percent to $102,700. Those differences between the median and average mostly reflect stronger gains at the top of the income scale.

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And even as black and Hispanic families reported large wealth gains, wealth gaps along racial lines barely narrowed. Median wealth for an African-American family was $17,600 last year, up 29 percent from 2013. That's a much bigger gain than the 17 percent gain for whites.

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Yet median wealth for white families was $171,000, still ten times that for blacks and roughly eight times that for Latinos.

Median wealth for the richest 10 percent of all families jumped 40 percent in the past three years, to $1.63 million. That's nearly 17 times higher than the figure for typical families.

That bigger gain by the wealthiest families left them with a greater share. The 1 percent richest families now hold nearly 39 percent of U.S. wealth, up from 36.3 percent in 2013, the Fed said.

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