Numbers, Facts and Trends Shaping Your World

A Rise in Wealth for the Wealthy; Declines for the Lower 93%

Appendix 1: Census Wealth and Asset Ownership Data

The Census Bureau collects ongoing data on the nation’s wealth and ownership of assets in the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP). Modules on wealth have existed since 1984, and for many years the Census Bureau published wealth reports in its SIPP P-70 report series. Gottschalk (2008) is a good introduction to the wealth data based on SIPP. The most recent SIPP wealth collection occurred as part of wave 10 of the 2008 SIPP panel. Interviews occurred over September to December 2011 and refer to assets and liabilities as of the last day of the prior month. The 2009 data (wave 4 of the 2008 SIPP panel) were collected in similar fashion and hence the two wealth snapshots presented in this report are representative of the nation’s wealth in August to November of 2009 and 2011. The 2011 data were based on interviews with about 31,000 households.

The wealth tabulations in this report are based on tabulations of the SIPP data published by the Census Bureau. The 2011 tabulations were published by the Census Bureau on March 21, 2013.

Most of the dollar figures are adjusted for inflation and expressed in 2011 dollars.

The nine household net worth categories available in the Census tabulations are, however, in nominal dollars. In both 2009 and 2011, about 16.0 million households had a net worth of at least $500,000. In 2009 the $500,000 refers to $500,000 in 2009 dollars, while the $500,000 in 2011 refers to $500,000 in 2011 dollars. Since $500,000 was worth more in 2009 than it was in 2011, implicitly it became easier for a household to be included in the $500,000 or more net worth category in 2011 than in 2009. In each year about 13.5% of households had $500,000 of net worth in nominal terms. But because of inflation, a smaller share of households had $500,000 in real purchasing power in 2011 than in 2009.

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