Fed survey: Family income slipped 7.7 percent from 2007 to 2010

A Richmond, Calif., home. Legal wrangling and the "robo-signing" scandal, one expert said, has lengthened the foreclosure-processing timeline.
A Richmond, Calif., home. Legal wrangling and the "robo-signing" scandal, one expert said, has lengthened the foreclosure-processing timeline. (JUSTIN SULLIVAN / Getty Images)
Posted: June 13, 2012

WASHINGTON — A new survey of U.S. family finances released by the Federal Reserve on Monday documents in painful detail just how deeply the Great Recession and its aftermath has been felt in household budgets across America.

The Survey of Consumer Finances, conducted every three years and covering a span from 2007 to 2010, documents steep declines in family income that correspond to what many Americans already know about their own declining net worth.

It also shows how the South and West have felt more pain than the rest of the country because of the severity of the housing sector's downturn there, and provides evidence that the self-employed and business owners have taken it on the chin in recent years.

The Fed survey found that the median value of family income, when adjusted for inflation and before taxes, fell by 7.7 percent — from $49,600 in 2007 to $45,800 in 2010. The median is the midpoint of all family income.

"The decline in median income was widespread across demographic groups, with only a few groups experiencing stable or rising incomes," the Fed survey said. "Most noticeably, median incomes moved higher for retirees and other nonworking families. The decline in median income was most pronounced among more highly educated families … and families living in the South and West regions."

The Fed found that median net worth fell 38.9 percent — from $126,400 in 2007 to $77,300 in 2010. That essentially took net worth back to levels recorded in 1992, and reflects the steep erosion of housing wealth. Middle-class Americans have a greater proportion of net worth tied up in their homes than do the rich.

The decline of incomes follows a period from 2000 to 2007 in which incomes stayed flat from the end of the dot-com recession throughout recovery and until the December 2007 start of the Great Recession. It marked the first time since the end of World War II that workers made almost no progress on wages throughout an entire business cycle, said Larry Mishel, president of the liberal think tank Economic Policy Institute.

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