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Economy

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US regains wealth from recession unequally

– America as a whole has regained all the household wealth it lost to the Great Recession and then some, thanks to higher stock and home prices.

The average household still has a long way to go.

U.S. household wealth jumped $3 trillion to $70 trillion in the January-March quarter this year, the Federal Reserve said Thursday. That topped the previous peak of $68 trillion in the third quarter of 2007, just before the recession began.

Yet because of inflation and a rising population, the average household has recovered only about 63 percent of the wealth it lost, according to separate calculations by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. Affluent households have benefited most because most of the recovered wealth has come from higher stock prices. The wealthiest 10 percent of Americans own about 80 percent of stocks.

The recession cost Americans $15.6 trillion in wealth.

Average household wealth, adjusted for inflation, was $539,500 at the end of last year, according to the St. Louis Fed. Yet most households own far less than the average, which is skewed by how much wealth belongs to the most affluent.

“Most families have recovered much less than the average amount,” the St. Louis Fed said in a report.

Household wealth, or net worth, reflects the value of assets like homes, stocks and bank accounts minus debts like mortgages and credit cards.

For America as a whole, higher home values and stock prices have helped create a “wealth effect.” This occurs when rising wealth gives Americans the confidence to spend more. The economy benefits because consumers drive about 70 percent of U.S. economic growth.

National home prices have been rising steadily since last summer, though they remain about 30 percent below their 2006 peak. Stocks have more than doubled since they bottomed in 2009, and stock averages hit record highs last month.

The Fed’s low-interest rate policies have been intended to support both the housing and stock markets.

The Fed’s policies have helped keep mortgage rates near record lows to encourage home purchases.

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