The FRED Blog has discussed the large differences in wealth between the richest 0.1% and the poorest 50% in the U.S. Today, we try to answer a related question by exploring a different data set from the Distributional Financial Accounts (DFA): What does it take for households to move up on the wealth ladder?
The FRED graph above shows the minimum dollar values of wealth that households must have to be classified in each DFA wealth category. As of 2019,
- to be in the top 0.1% (blue diamonds), a household needs at least $38 million
- for the next 0.9% (red diamonds), the threshold is a little over $10 million
- for the next 9% (green diamonds), the threshold is almost $1.8 million
- for the next 40% (purple diamonds), the threshold is $165,382
- and, obviously, the minimum for the bottom 50% is $0
These minimum wealth cutoff values are reported once every three years and increase in value due to inflation and changes in the distribution of wealth. To make that last point clearer, we created a second FRED graph showing the distance between the wealth brackets (i.e., ratios of wealth cutoff values). To make our references clearer, let’s label the brackets as follows: 1st bracket (top 0.1%), 2nd bracket (99% to 99.9%), 3rd bracket (90% to 99%), and 4th bracket (50% to 90%).
Again, the latest data at the time of this writing are for 2019. The blue circles show the distance between the 1st and 2nd brackets: 1st bracket households need at least four times more wealth than the households at the bottom of the 2nd bracket. The green circles show the distance between the 3rd and 4th brackets: 3rd bracket households need nearly 11 times more wealth than the households at the bottom of the 4th bracket.
Some takeaways: It’s harder, relatively speaking, to move from the bottom 50% into the top 10% than it is to move from the top 10% into the top 1% or even the top 0.1%. Perhaps that’s expected. But it also may be useful to know the threshold to get into the wealthiest 10% has risen noticeably faster than the thresholds for the other brackets. That is, the gap between the very wealthy and the middle-of-the-road wealthy is growing over time: Climbing that next rung of the wealth ladder is becoming gradually harder.
How these graphs were created: For the first graph, search FRED for “Minimum Wealth Cutoff for the Top 0.1% (99.9th to 100th Wealth Percentiles).” Next, click “Edit Graph” at the top right corner and navigate to the “Add Line” tab. Search for the homonymous data series for the 99th to 99.9th wealth percentiles and click on “Add data series.” Repeat the last step to add data for the remaining two wealth groups. For the second graph, start with a graph of the “Minimum Wealth Cutoff for the Top 0.1% (99.9th to 100th Wealth Percentiles)” data series. Next, click “Edit Graph” and customize the data in Line 1 by searching for “Minimum Wealth Cutoff for the 99th to 99.9th Wealth Percentiles” and clicking on “Add.” Next, type the formula a/b and click on “Apply.” Repeat the last two steps to calculate the ratios between minimum wealth cutoffs for the remaining two wealth groups.
Suggested by Diego Mendez-Carbajo.