Federal Reserve Data: More Work to be Done, But Household Wealth Up Every Year Under Obama

This week, the Federal Reserve released its Survey of Consumer Finances showing the depth of the recession’s impact on family finances. The numbers are a tough and brutal snapshot of the financial crisis and housing bubble that President Obama inherited. Based on other, more frequent data, the entire decline in household wealth took place before President Obama came into office and it has risen every year since he came into office. Nevertheless, these data show that wealth still has not fully recovered from the worst recession since the Great Depression and reinforces how much more work we have to do.

The Federal Reserve conducts the Survey of Consumer Finances every three years so the latest numbers compare family finances in 2007 and 2010. Although the Survey of Consumer Finance is a useful gauge of household finances, it does not record exactly when the changes took place nor does it provide the most timely data. To look more deeply into these questions, this blog post uses another Federal Reserve survey—the Flow of Funds—which has the advantage of providing quarterly numbers and covering the period up through the first quarter of 2012. These data show:

  • The entire drop in household wealth between 2007 and 2010, the period covered by the Survey of Consumer Finances, occurred in 2008—before the President took office. Household wealth fell 24 percent between 2007-Q3 (which is roughly the quarter covered by the Survey of Consumer Finances which is conducted over the second half of the year) and 2009-Q1. Household net worth grew by 15 percent between 2009-Q1 and 2010-Q3, following the extraordinary range of actions in economic recovery, housing, the financial sector, and the auto industry. This increase, however, was still not enough to make up for the declines in 2008—which is most likely why the Survey of Consumer Finances recorded a decline for the full 2007 to 2010 period.
  • Household wealth has risen every year President Obama has been in office—by a total of 23 percent overall. In addition to the increases that occurred during 2009 and the first part of 2010, household net worth has increased another 6 percent since 2010-Q3 (roughly when the 2010 Survey of Consumer Finances was conducted), for a total increase of 23 percent since President Obama took office.

According to Flow of Funds data, gains in assets like mutual funds, deposits, and stabilization in home equity drove the increase:

- Building on the stock market recovery, mutual fund assets have increased more than 65 percent since President Obama took office, reaching their highest level on record in nominal terms, above their pre-crisis peak. 

- Deposits are up around 7 percent since President Obama took office. 

- Owner’s equity in household real estate has held steady since President Obama took office, after falling more than 50 percent from their peak in 2006 through the first quarter of 2009.

These Flow of Funds data are consistent with other measures showing that important components of household wealth have increased since the beginning of 2009:

  • The Dow Jones Industrial Average is up 56 percent since January 20th 2009.
  • In 2011, the Investment Company Institute estimated that retirement balances reached the highest nominal value recorded, up 27 percent from 2008 through the end of 2011
  • According to the Employee Benefits Research Institute, average 401(k) balances have increased every year under President Obama for every age group and job tenure.
  • We’re finally seeing signs of home values stabilizing, after the decline in housing wealth drove so much of the loss of net worth in the recession. For the first time since the expiration of the homebuyer tax credit in 2010, the CoreLogic index increased year-over-year for two straight months. Moreover, in March the S&P Case-Shiller index saw prices stabilize month-over-month for the first time in almost a year. Measures that exclude distressed sales have risen faster.

Even with these solid gains, household wealth has still not fully recovered from its large fall during the height of the financial crisis in 2008. We need to do everything within our power to help more families regain the wealth they have lost and to give more opportunities to  larger circle of families to gain the level of net worth they need to provide security and opportunity for their families, which is why the President remains focused on creating jobs, strengthening the housing market, and improving the overall economy.

Gene Sperling is the Director of the National Economic Council and Jason Furman is Principal Deputy Director of the National Economic Council
Related Topics: Economy