The rich are much richer than you and me

By Chris Isidore, senior writer


NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- The gap between the rich and the middle class is larger than it has ever been due to the bursting of the housing bubble.

The richest 1% of U.S. households had a net worth 225 times greater than that of the average American household in 2009, according to analysis conducted by the Economic Policy Institute, a liberal think tank. That's up from the previous record of 190 times greater, which was set in 2004.

The widening gap came even as wealthy households' average net worth tumbled 27% -- to about $14 million -- between 2007 to 2009. That's the first time that they suffered a decline since the three-year period of 1992 to 1995.

Meanwhile, the average family's net worth plunged 41% -- to just $62,200 -- from 2007 to 2009, according to EPI's calculations.

"The typical person lost more because a bigger percentage of their wealth in 2007 had been the value of their home," said Heidi Shierholz, an economist with EPI.

The poorest U.S. households have had a negative net worth in every reading dating back to 1962, meaning that their debts and other liabilities outweigh their assets. They fell deeper into a hole the last two years, with their net worth falling to negative $27,000 on average, or nearly twice as much as they owed two years earlier.

Net worth is a measure of a family's total assets, including real estate, bank balances, stock holdings and retirement funds, minus all of their liabilities, such as mortgages and other consumer debt.

The EPI estimate uses figures from the Federal Reserve's survey of consumer finances for 2007 estimates, and the Fed's flow of funds report on household wealth for the more recent reading. To top of page

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