Total wealth held by American households as reference point for ancient finances

There is a lot of wealth visible in all those homes. Photo courtesy of Adobe Stock.
There is a lot of wealth visible in all those homes. Photo courtesy of Adobe Stock.

Here is another point of reference I’ll use for my discussion of ancient finances. The Wall Street Journal reported on 6/7/16:  Americans’ Total Wealth Hits Record, According to Federal Reserve Report.

(Cross post from Attestation Update.)

Want to add this additional frame of reference before getting back to looking at Alexander’s haul as he looted various Persian cities.

The Fed released an estimate of the total wealth of all Americans for the first quarter 2016, which includes individuals and nonprofits.

Why the $36 billion of Harvard’s endowment and the $149B at the next nine largest college endowments should be included in such a calculation, I don’t know. WSJ article says that 86% of the 2016 totals are held by individuals and 14% by nonprofits.

At first and second glance I am not quite sure how to interpret this data. The breakout on table B.101e at page 142 helps explain it.  The Fed’s calculation includes tangible assets, bank deposits, bonds, equity stock, defined contribution pension assets, and mutual funds. It does not include defined benefit pension plans.  Loans and other liabilities are backed out before getting to the net number.

You can find the FRB report here. Page 6 has some good info.

Here are some data points from the WSJ article and FRB report:

  • $88.1 trillion – 2016 first quarter – total net wealth of all Americans, including charities
  • $84.2 trillion – 2014
  • $69.6T – 2012
  • $62.3T – 2010
  • $55T – 2009 – total wealth after recession
  • $67T – 2007 – total wealth before recession

Reference points

Backing out the 14% that is held by nonprofits (read that as hospitals and super rich universities) leaves 86% held by individuals. That results in:

  • $76 trillion – net wealth held by individuals in the US during 1st quarter of 2016
  • $10 trillion – loss in net wealth held by individuals during the Great Recession of ’07-‘09, calculated as the 86% of the decline in net wealth held by individuals ( 67T – 55T = 12T decline, x .86% = 10.3T, rounded to 10T ).

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