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The front-page headline of USA Today (3/7/14) declares:
We’re $9,800,000,000,000 Richer
The story by Doug Carroll begins:
A booming stock market and recovering home values boosted Americans’ household wealth by nearly $10 trillion last year, the Federal Reserve reported Thursday.
You knew there was a but coming, and sure enough it does. Cue the sad trombone:
But the gains since the crisis have not been equally distributed. Most of the recovered wealth has come from higher stock prices, and many Americans are not in the market. The wealthiest 10 percent of Americans own 80 percent of stocks.
So we’re seeing an increase in the value of stocks that most people do not own. It’s a short article, but USA Today knows it should try to end on an upbeat note:
Even so, the economy benefits because people spend more when they feel richer. And consumer spending accounts for about two-thirds of US economic activity.
Of course, it’s difficult to “feel richer” when you’re not. I suppose the best question might be this: Who exactly does the “we” in the headline refer to? If what the Fed report reveals is that the rich are the ones getting richer, that answers that question. A newspaper that considered its audience to be the vast majority of the population struggling to get by would write a very different story about the concentration of wealth.