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March 7th, 2011 7:35 PM

The Forbes 400 vs. Everybody Else

According to the most recent information, the Forbes 400 now have a greater net worth than the bottom 50% of U.S. households combined.

In 2009, the total net worth of the Forbes 400 was $1.27 trillion.

The best information now available shows that in 2009 the bottom 60% (yes, now it's 60%, not 50%) of U.S. households owned only 2.3% of total U.S. wealth.

Total U.S. household net worth -- rich, middle class and poor combined -- at the time the Forbes list came out was $53.15 trillion. So the bottom 60% of households possessed just $1.22 trillion of that $53.15 trillion, less than the Forbes 400.

Thus the Forbes 400 unquestionably have more wealth than the bottom 50%.

By contrast, in 2007 the bottom 50% of U.S. households owned slightly more wealth than the Forbes 400; the economic meltdown has hurt the bottom more than the top. (And in fact, in 2010 the net worth of the Forbes 400 jumped to $1.37 trillion.)

SOURCES:

1. Total net worth of Forbes 400, 2009: Forbes

2. Total net worth of bottom 60% of U.S. households, 2009, by percent of total U.S. household net worth: Edward Wolff, "Recent Trends in Household Wealth in the United States: Rising Debt and the Middle-Class Squeeze—an Update to 2007," p. 33

Edward Wolff, Professor of Economics at New York University, is the top academic expert on economic inequality in the U.S. He writes:

"A somewhat rough update, based on the change in housing and stock prices, shows a marked deterioration in middle-class wealth. According to my estimates, while mean wealth (in 2007 dollars) fell by 17.3 percent between 2007 and 2009 to $443,600, median wealth plunged by an astounding 36.1 percent to $65,400 (about the same level as in 1992!) ... Trends in inequality [from 2007 to mid-2009] ... show a fairly steep rise in wealth inequality ... The share of the top 1 percent advanced from 34.6 to 37.1 percent, that of the top 5 percent from 61.8 to 65 percent, and that of the top quintile from 85 to 87.7 percent, while that of the second quintile fell from 10.9 to 10 percent, that of the middle quintile from 4 to 3.1 percent, and that of the bottom two quintiles from 0.2 to -0.8 percent." (emphasis added)

Note: a "quintile" is 20% of U.S. households, so the middle and bottom two quintiles include 60% of U.S. households.

3. Total net worth of U.S. households, third quarter of 2009: Federal Reserve, p. 1

4. Total net worth of bottom 50% of U.S. households, 2007, by amount: Arthur B. Kennickell, Federal Reserve, "Ponds and Streams: Wealth and Income in the U.S., 1989 to 2007, p. 35

5. Total net worth of Forbes 400, 2007: Forbes

6. Total net worth of Forbes 400, 2010: Forbes

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