What the Recession Has Done to the Rich

They're getting more diverse and increasingly anxious, even as they regain lost income.

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But in light of the United States' large and long-standing economic disparities along certain racial and ethnic lines, Currier says that "any increase among people of color" among the richest Americans "is extremely powerful and speaks volumes about how optimistic we should be about the possibility of upward mobility."

They Have Regained Lost Income

In 2006, 50.5 percent of annual income went to the top 20 percent of households, the highest since the Census began keeping records in 1967. That figure dropped to 49.7 percent in 2007 but has since then rebounded to 50.3 percent in 2009 and 50.2 percent in 2010. Meanwhile, the income share going to the bottom three quintiles decreased.

Lower Incomes, but Higher by Comparison

The U.S. median income has dropped significantly as a result of the economic crisis, from $52,823 in 2007 to $49,445 in 2010, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That decline occurred across the board, from the poorest to the richest Americans. But the gap between the richest and the poorest still continued to grow over that period, as it has relatively steadily for decades. The ratio of the 90th percentile income to the 10th percentile income grew by 4.4 percent from 2007 to 2010. Echoes of this increase in inequality can be seen in the retail industry. High-end brands like Tiffany have seen strong sales, as have chains that are focused on providing low prices, like Dollar General.

[See how much the Treasury receives in gifts every year.]

Becoming More Anxious

According to Gallup, upper-income Americans are now as shaken by the rough economy as the rest of the nation. The polling firm's latest numbers show that, in August, 54 percent of Americans with annual incomes of $90,000 or more believed economic conditions to be "poor." That month, 54 percent of middle- and low-income Americans likewise characterized the economy as "poor." This is the first time since January 2008, right at the start of the recession, that upper-income Americans are as worried as their lower-income peers. Jeff Ladoceur, director of SEI private wealth management, says that the fear is directed toward future generations. His clients, whose net worths run into the tens of millions of dollars, are at the extreme upper end of the wealth spectrum, but they still feel afraid for their children's futures because of an economic environment that has grown so uncertain. "There's this kind of concern that's very much, politics aside, concern of the environment that feels a lot more oppressive or difficult to navigate," says Ladoceur, causing the wealthy to question how their children will fare in such uncharted territory: "Is it the social economic environment that I grew up in? Or at the very least, what is it going to look like?" he asks.

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