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Changes in U.S. Family Finances from 2007 to 2010: Evidence from the Survey of Consumer Finances

Jesse Bricker, Arthur B. Kennickell, Kevin B.Moore, and John Sabelhaus, of the Board’s Division of Research and Statistics, prepared this article with assistance from Samuel Ackerman, Robert Argento, Gerhard Fries, and Richard A.Windle.

The Federal Reserve Board’s Survey of Consumer Finances (SCF) for 2010 provides insights into changes in family income and net worth since the 2007 survey.1 The survey shows that, over the 2007–10 period, the median value of real (inflation-adjusted) family income before taxes fell 7.7 percent; median income had also fallen slightly in the preceding three-year period (figure 1). The decline in median income was widespread across demographic groups, with only a few groups experiencing stable or rising incomes.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, families headed by persons aged less than 55, and families living in the South and West regions.

Real mean income fell even more than median income in the recent period, by 11.1 percent across all families. The decline in mean income was even more widespread than the decline in median income, with virtually all demographic groups experiencing a decline between 2007 and 2010; the decline in the mean was most pronounced in the top 10 percent of the income distribution and for higher education or wealth groups. Over the preceding three years, mean income had risen, especially for high-net-worth families and families headed by a person who was self-employed.

The decreases in family income over the 2007−10 period were substantially smaller than the declines in both median and mean net worth; overall, median net worth fell 38.8 percent,
and the mean fell 14.7 percent (figure 2).Median net worth fell for most groups between 2007 and 2010, and the decline in the median was almost always larger than the decline in the mean. The exceptions to this pattern in the medians and means are seen in the highest 10 percent of the distributions of income and net worth, where changes in the median were relatively muted.

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Changes in U.S. Family Finances from 2007 to 2010

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