The middle class is in terrible shape. Wages are stagnant, the middle class’s share of the nation’s wealth has been declining for decades, and ordinary Americans feel like they’re just exiting a recession that ended years ago. But could 2015 be the year that marks a turning point for rebuilding middle-class wealth? Two new retirement savings initiatives, myRA and Illinois’s Secure Choice, offer hope that financial security and wealth building aren’t relics of the past for the middle class.
One reason the wealth gap between middle-income and high-income earners is so stark is because of a lack of diversity of assets held by middle-income families. Middle-income wealth is locked up in the value of the home. Almost three-quarters of the wealth of middle-income families is held in a primary residence, compared to only 9 percent of the wealth of the highest 1 percent of income earners.
Families with higher incomes have more diversified balance sheets, allowing them to take full advantage of the growth, stability, and tax advantages offered by different asset types. During the past few years, the value of financial assets like stocks and mutual funds has risen much faster than housing prices, overwhelmingly benefitting higher-income households: The wealthiest 10 percent of Americans own 81 percent of all stock held directly, in mutual funds, or in retirement accounts.