The all-time record highs that Wall Street has registered this week have given some Americans -- the nation's already rich -- considerable cause for celebration.
And the rest of the nation? Tens of millions of Americans are paying precious little attention to the chirpy tale of Wall Street's ticker. The simple reason: They own no stocks at all. Millions of other Americans who do own stocks don't see any reason to celebrate either. They're finding themselves forced, amid pandemic economic collapse, to start selling the stocks that make up the bulk of their retirement savings.
How best to start understanding this story? The best place to begin: The latest numbers on stock ownership from the Federal Reserve. Fed researchers have been tracking who exactly owns the stocks that trade every business day on Wall Street ever since 1989.
Back nearly 30 years ago, in 1992, the share of stock nationally that belongs to America's poorest half of households hit an all-time high. That "high" amounted to all of a miniscule 1.6 percent.
How much of America's stock wealth does the bottom 50 percent hold these days? At the end of this past June, the most recent Federal Reserve data point available, the nation's poorest half held less than 1 percent of the nation's stock holdings, just 0.6 percent.
The nation's poorest 90 percent, all combined, now hold just 11.8 percent of the nation's stocks.
Numbers like these help explain why massive numbers of Americans didn't rush out onto the streets to cheer earlier this week when two top Wall Street benchmarks, the Dow Jones industrial average and the S&P 500, hit their own all-time record summits. Shares of stock either held directly or through mutual funds make up just 2.3 percent of the total assets of households in the bottom 50 percent and a mere 7.6 percent of the assets the rest of the bottom 90 percent hold.
America's richest 1 percent, on the other hand, have plenty of reason to celebrate Wall Street records. Stock holdings make up over 40 percent of top 1 percent household wealth. These 1 percenters, overall, hold 52.4 percent of the nation's stock, a share almost five times greater than all the stock that households in the bottom 90 percent hold.
This top 1 percent share has been steadily increasing. Since 1989, the year the Fed started keeping track, the top 1 percent share of the nation's stock holdings has jumped 22 percent. The bottom 90 percent share has dropped 33 percent.
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