It’s the biggest economic mystery right now – one that has most economists scratching their heads…
Why have the Federal Reserve’s 5.25 percentage points’ worth of rate hikes since March 2022 not sent unemployment soaring and the economy into recession?
After all, those rate hikes represent the steepest hiking cycle in decades, one that surely would have tanked the economy in previous eras.
We now have a very good answer.
Because, while you may not have heard about it in the mainstream media (it was not widely reported), there was some very good news out of the Federal Reserve recently.
The Fed released the results of its Survey of Consumer Finances. This is a survey the Fed conducts every three years. And it’s considered the bible of how American households are doing financially.
One look at this year’s summary of the survey results should make every American cheer. And note, these figures were adjusted for inflation…
Here are just a few highlights…
- Average family income rose 15% from 2019 to 2022. This increase was widespread across the income spectrum, from low-income families to wealthy households. It also spanned racial and ethnic groups. The median income also rose about 3%.
- U.S. households’ net worth rose 37% over the three-year period. That’s the biggest increase in net worth since the Fed started surveying households in 1992. And it was “universal” across different types of families – income groups and races – according to the Fed.
- Homeownership increased over the period, and now two-thirds of American families are homeowners. The median net home value – home value minus debt owed on the home – rose from about $139,000 to $201,000.
- Credit card and other types of debt fell significantly, and the median leverage ratio – a family’s total debt to its assets – declined to a 20-year low. As a result, far fewer families are financially fragile today than just a few years ago.
There’s much more good news in the report, so I encourage everyone to take a look at it.
One section I found particularly interesting was about Americans’ participation in the stock market.
Some 58% of Americans owned stocks in 2022, directly or indirectly through retirement accounts. That’s up from 52% in 2016.
Even families in the lower half of the income distribution increased stock ownership, and now more than a third of those families hold stocks.
As you can see from the chart, the percentage of all Americans who own stocks has been rising steadily since 2013. But the rise is even more dramatic among lower-income Americans (the 0-49.9 percentile).
And the value of these stock holdings rose among all income groups too.
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The bottom line here is that the U.S. economy experienced significant growth in recent years, and, just as important, there was broad participation in that growth.
For example, the average net worth for Black families rose 28% to $211,500 – the biggest gain of all racial groups. Hispanic families saw their average net worth rise 19% to almost $228,000.
Those are significant and very welcome gains.
Add to these figures the incredible job growth of recent years – 4.5 million new jobs in 2022 alone – and it’s easier to see why the Fed’s aggressive rate hikes have not plunged us into recession.
So when someone tells you that this economy isn’t working, or isn’t working for everyone, cite some of these statistics.
It may give them pause.