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Federal Reserve report on consumer finances

Changes in U.S. Family Finances from 2010 to 2013: Evidence from the Survey of Consumer Finances

Federal Reserve Bulletin, September 2014

The Federal Reserve Board’s triennial Survey of Consumer Finances (SCF) collects information about family incomes, net worth, balance sheet components, credit use, and other financial outcomes. The 2013 SCF reveals substantial disparities in the evolution of income and net worth since the previous time the survey was conducted, in 2010.

Family incomes

  • Between 2010 and 2013, mean (overall average) family income rose 4 percent in real terms, but median income fell 5 percent, consistent with increasing income concentration during this period.
  • Families at the bottom of the income distribution saw continued substantial declines in average real incomes between 2010 and 2013, continuing the trend observed between the 2007 and 2010 surveys.
  • Families in the middle to upper-middle parts (between the 40th and 90th percentiles) of the income distribution saw little change in average real incomes between 2010 and 2013 and thus have failed to recover the losses experienced between 2007 and 2010.
  • Only families at the very top of the income distribution saw widespread income gains between 2010 and 2013.
  • The differentials in average income growth between 2010 and 2013 are also observed for other family groupings in which large differences in income levels are observed, notably across education groups, by race and ethnicity, homeownership status, and levels of net worth.

Net worth

  • Consistent with income trends and differential holdings of housing and corporate equities, families at the bottom of the income distribution saw continued substantial declines in real net worth between 2010 and 2013, while those in the top half saw, on average, modest gains.
  • Ownership rates of housing and businesses fell substantially between 2010 and 2013.
  • Retirement plan participation in 2013 continued on the downward trajectory observed between the 2007 and 2010 surveys for families in the bottom half of the income distribution.
  • The decrease in stock ownership rates was most pronounced for the bottom half of the income distribution.

http://www.federalreserve.gov/pubs/bulletin/2014/pdf/scf14.pdf

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Comment:

By Don McCanne, MD

The recovery of the economy has left behind everyone except the wealthy. Most individuals and families are less able to afford housing, education, retirement, vacations, college expenses, and, of especial concern to us, health care. Many economists believe that this may represent the new normal.

The public policies that we need to bring us all back on a solid footing are straightforward. But politics has resulted in the erection of almost impenetrable barriers. Just today the Senate reconfirmed the fact that billionaires are still free to buy our elections (and the billionaires have fared very well as the rest of us have been left behind). 

If we could improve just the financing of health care so that it is affordable for everyone, we would have taken one major step towards implementing the public policies that we need to more equitably share the gains in our economy. The Affordable Care Act falls far too short of the level of equitable health care financing that we need. The progressive financing that characterizes a single payer system would move us more dramatically in the right direction. Not only would everyone have health care, but we would be improving family incomes and net worth as well.

Policy is easy. But we really have to work on the politics. The billionaires can buy the souls of the politicians for only so long. Start sharpening your pitchforks (Hanauer).