It’s a good time to be part of the proverbial 1%, that’s for sure.
A Pew Research Center report shows that the wealth gap between America’s middle- and upper-income families is the widest ever recorded.
In fact, the median wealth of America’s most affluent families is nearly seven times that of their middle-income countrymen.
Here’s a look at the shocking statistics that outline the death of the middle class…
The chart below shows the wealth gap between upper- and middle-income households over the last 30 years:
As if that’s not bad enough, America’s upper-income families have a median net worth that’s 70 times greater than lower-income families.
Meanwhile, net income has remained dismal for years now. It’s no surprise that most Americans aren’t feeling the effects of the economic recovery… after all, median income is still 8% lower than in 2007, just before the recession.
On top of that, 81% of counties across the country saw median income peak all the way back in 1999, and for many, inflation-adjusted median income was higher even in 1989 than it is today.
A closer look reveals a large disparity between low- and high-income earners, as well. While the bottom fifth of earners have seen their income drop 16% since 1999, the richest fifth have only suffered a 2% decline.
The Fed Is Partly Responsible
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why wealth inequality has been growing. However, we do know that the Fed has something to do with it.
First, large-scale bailouts like the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) encourage senseless risk-taking and create moral hazard. Why wouldn’t banks go all in if they knew that, in the worst-case scenario, the American taxpayer would prop them up?
Yet TARP was just the beginning.
In recent years, the Fed’s zero-interest-rate policy (ZIRP) and quantitative easing (QE) have transferred a large portion of wealth from average Americans to the upper class.
Both ZIRP and QE work to push up financial asset prices while facilitating the buildup of leverage (debt) and speculation. While that’s great for wealthy investors, a 2013 Fed survey on consumer finances found that only 48.8% of American families are invested in the stock market (including through retirement accounts).
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Therefore, the so-called “wealth effect” of rising stock prices doesn’t help the majority of Americans. Put simply, the rich own stocks and bonds. The poor have debt, including the $1.2 trillion in student loan debt outstanding (a number that’s rising at an astounding rate).
It’s abundantly clear that tomorrow’s debt slaves will have scant hope of attaining middle-class status. Instead, they’ll be relegated to paying off debt burdens well into their adult lives.
Guiding the Way
Furthermore, the central bank is helping to inflate dangerous bubbles, which eventually become substantial roadblocks to both a comfortable retirement and, ultimately, upper-class wealth.
Every time a bubble bursts – just think tech and housing – many Americans see their dreams of financial independence evaporate. Only the wealthiest Americans maintain what they’ve accumulated during the bubble.
That’s a big problem for the average investor, who has likely not recovered from the housing bust and Great Recession, yet is already staring down today’s global high-yield debt bubble.
Sooner or later, every bubble must burst. Of course, we’ve warned you about reaching for yield already, as junk bond yields fell to record lows in 2014. Scant yields were completely out of whack with underlying risks, and this is already turning out to be a prescient call.
Going forward, we’ll do everything we can to help guide you through this treacherous environment and make sure you’re positioned to come out ahead in 2015.