Wealth, and Wealth

The Federal Reserve recently estimated total household net worth in the US to be about $80 trillion, including real estate and financial assets. And data from the Fed’s Survey of Consumer Finances imply that the top 10% of households by net worth hold about 75%—or $60 trillion—of this total. The bottom 90% of households therefore have a net worth of about $20 trillion.

A very large fraction of that net worth is phycisal assets, too: the house folks live in, the car(s) they drive, the physical plant a business owner—Mom and Pop, anyone?—owns. These are not liquid assets; they cannot be turned into tonight’s—or even next week’s dinner, or mortgage payment, or….

[T]he true picture is hardly as stark as critics of inequality claim, because it leaves out the large amount of wealth held in the form of future retirement benefits from Social Security and Medicare.

Liquid assets: those checks are cash that can be spent immediately on anything of need or wish—the Social Security check—or that goes immediately toward health care costs—the Medicare check. Disproportionately, that money goes to the bottom 90% rather than the top 10%.

Separately from the actual misconception about wealth inequality, but an important factor in perpetuating the inequality in opportunity that does exist, is this:

[T]he public’s traditional financial wealth is depressed because the current entitlement programs lower people’s real incomes and deny them the higher returns available through investment-based retirement savings like IRAs or 401(k)s.

That’s the welfare cliff about which so much has been written—and ignored by the Left.


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