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The Net Worth Of American Households

$7.8 trillion in the hole



In just two years, America's "investors" lost another $7.2 trillion in the stock market.


For the first time since the Great Depression, our Personal Savings RATE became NEGATIVE, an honor conferred on no other industrialized nation http://www.bea.doc.gov/bea/dn/pitbl.htm


The median value of American's household assets was 21% higher in 1983 than in 1993 per the Census Bureau.


Consumer credit increased more than four fold from $355 billion in 1980 to $1,569 billion in 2000.


Mortgage debt increased more than five fold from $934 billion in 1980  to $5,277 billion  in 1997, US Statistical Abstract http://www.census.gov/prod/3/98pubs/98statab/sasec16.pdf


Public debt increased by $1,177 billion, from $4,351 billion http://www.access.gpo.gov/usbudget/fy2000/hist.html#h7 in 1993 to $5,528,488,599,737 in 1998 http://www.dailyrepublican.com/nationaldebt.html


State CAFRs show governments have $60 trillion in liquid assets.


President Clinton transferred another $270 billion from households which were already an average of $77,880 in debt to single-mother households so they can raise bastards.


The net worth of the average American household is a negative $77,000 each.

A Must See: Another important perspective on our debt by Michael Hodges http://mwhodges.home.att.net/debt.htm

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The month immediately after President Clinton declared that we had that $39 billion surplus, our Public Debt jumped $41 billion http://www.dailyrepublican.com/nationaldebt.html.  Since that "surplus" has been broadcast nationwide as "good news", our Personal Savings RATE went NEGATIVE http://www.bea.doc.gov/bea/dn/pitbl.htm for the first time since the Great Depression, and has been running at a NEGATIVE 0.6% of Personal Income ever since.
The total amount of tax money transferred from men to women through the EIC and Child Tax Credit is already approaching half a trillion dollars and will be another $270 billion over the next 5 years.   All of this is not coming from "wealthy households"--it's coming from households which already collectively have more than $7 trillion in negative net worth.

Census Bureau data regarding the median values of holdings for asset owners" is not available for years later than 1993.  Between 1984 and 1993 there was a dramatic decrease in values of assets like "interest earning assets" (down 42%), "checking accounts" (down 25%), and homes (down 21%).  This estimate is therefore too high because it does not take into account the probable decrease between 1993 and 1999.  The latest year for which US Statistical Abstract data for things like "mortgage debt" and "consumer credit" is available is 1997.  Projecting a total increase of $738 in this debt between 1997 and 1999 is probably too low, but this figure is used to be conservative.

The Census Bureau http://www.census.gov/hhes/www/wealth/wlth93a.html survey reports that the median per household interest earning asset for each of 71 million households was $2,999 in 1993.   But when the Public Debt per 71 million households was subtrtacted, they had a NEGATIVE worth of $58,196 per household.
The Census Bureau also notes that 8.6 million American households had a median of $12,998 in market funds, securities, and bonds.  But when the $241 billion in consumer credit was subtracted from it, they had a NEGATIVE of $14,990 per household. US Statistical Abstract.
About the only asset in the average American household  in 1993 with any equity is their auto, which had a median value of $5,140 for each of the 85.7 million households who had vehicles.  When the $838 billion in Automobile Consumer Credit was subtracted, though, they had an average equity of only $1,779 each.  The only problem with believing that there was any equity in the average household is the $3,448 billion in mortgage debt  which, when subtracted from the $46,669 median value of homes owned by occupants, exceeded the total value of homes by $2,754 each.
Owning their own businesses gave them an apparent
average of $62,685 in assets, but when $677 billion in commercial mortgates were subtracted, their negative equity was $55,685 each.  Anyone who has the mistaken impression that people who owned stocks and mutual funds were "creating wealth" or have "wealth" in the bank in 1993 must understand that THEY DIDN'T!  When the Revolving Consumer Debt of $310 billion was subtracted, each of their households was another $7,797 in the hole.  These debts increased by $2,645 billion between 1993 and 1997, a time during which real estate values nationwide declined enough to assume that this decrease in equity wiped out any other equity gains, adding another $26,450 of debt per household.

Even after the median $499 in each checking account, the $775 in US Savings Bonds, the $12,985 in IRA/Keogh accounts, the $19,415 in "other real estate" like farms, and the $21,001 in "other financial institutions" are added in, American households had a NEGATIVE net worth each of $44,050 in 1993, $70,500 in 1997, and $77,880 in 1999.
This President is not "supporting working families".  He is not even taking "wealth" from the men who earned it and handing it over to single-mother households who spend it to create geometrically expanding social pathologies.  He is putting families which are already an average of $77,880 in debt, into even deeper debt, and mortgaging our children's futures to the hilt in the process.

Asset Median Per Household Liability Median Per Household Net Per Household Net $billions
Interest earning assets at financial institutions in 71.1 million households $2,999 Public Debt per  71.1 million households $61,195 -$58,196 -$4,138
Market funds, securities, bonds, other interest-earning assets in 8.6 million households $12,998 Other consumer debt per 8.6 million households $27,988 -$14,990 -$129
Stocks, mutual funds per 21 million households $6,960 Revolving consumer debt per 21 million households $14,757 -$7,797 -$164
Own home in 64.3 million households $46,669 1-4 family home mortgage debt per 64.3 million households $49,425 -$2,754 -$177
Rental property in 8.4 million households $29,300 5 or more units mortgage debt per 8.4 million households $32,024 -$2,724 -$23
Business or profession per 10.8 million households $7,000 Commercial mortgages per 10.8 million households $62,685 -$55,685 -$601
Vehicles per 85.7 million households $5,140 Automobile consumer credit per 85.7 million households $3,361 +$1,779 +$152
Checking accounts per 45.9 million households $499       +$23
US Savings Bonds per 18.5 million households $775       +$143
IRA/Keogh accounts per 23.1 million households $12,985       +$300
Other real estate per 9.3 million households $19,415 Farm mortgages per 9.3 million households $8,710 $10,705 +$100
Other financial institutions per 5.2 million households $21,001       +$109
Total 1993 per 100 million households       -$44,050 -$4,405
TOTAL 1997       -$70,500 -$7,050
GRAND TOTAL 1999       -$77,880 -$7,788

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"The long-term budget projections are just horrifying," added Leonard Burman, co-director of tax policy for the Urban Institute. "I've got four children and it really disturbs me. I just think it's irresponsible what we're doing to them."



U.S. debt disaster stalking both Bush and Kerry
No mention of fiscal gap estimated as high as $72 trillion

Carolyn Lochhead, Chronicle Washington Bureau


The first of the 77 million-strong Baby Boom generation will begin to retire in just four years. The economic consequences of this fact -- as scary as they are foreseeable -- are all but ignored by President Bush and Democratic challenger John Kerry, who discuss just about everything but the biggest fiscal challenge of modern times.

Yet whoever wins the 2004 race will become the first U.S. president to confront what sober-minded experts across the political spectrum describe as an impending "fiscal catastrophe" lying right around the corner.

Astronomical federal debt, coming due as the Baby Boom generation collects Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, is enormous enough to swamp the promises both candidates are making to voters, whether for tax cuts, health care, 40,000 more troops or anything else.

"Chilling" is the word U.S. Comptroller General David Walker uses to describe the budget outlook.

"The long-term budget projections are just horrifying," added Leonard Burman, co-director of tax policy for the Urban Institute. "I've got four children and it really disturbs me. I just think it's irresponsible what we're doing to them."

What these numbers portend are crippling tax increases on workers, slashed benefits for retirees, gutted budgets for homeland security, highways, research and everything else, and an economic decline or a financial collapse that devastates the middle class, as happened recently in debt-strapped Argentina. Eventually, analysts insist, someone -- today's children or tomorrow's elderly or both -- will pay this debt.

Traditional budget measures used by politicians and the press give what Walker and many others call a highly misleading view of the U.S. debt. These focus on publicly held debt already incurred, now at $4.5 trillion, or 10-year budget forecasts like the one released last week by the Congressional Budget Office showing a record $422 billion deficit this year and a $2.3 trillion 10-year deficit.

'Fiscal gap' in the trillions

But these figures, worrisome enough, are deceptive because they ignore future liabilities such as Social Security and Medicare payments to the Baby Boomers. An array of government and private analysts put the actual U.S. "fiscal gap," which means all future receipts minus all future obligations, at $40 trillion (Government Accountability Office) to $72 trillion (Social Security Board of Trustees).

These are not sums, but present value figures, heavily discounted to show in today's dollars what it would cost to pay off the debt immediately. The International Monetary Fund estimates the gap at $47 trillion, the Brookings Institution at $60 trillion.

"To give you idea how big the problem is," said Laurence Kotlikoff, economics chairman at Boston University, who has written extensively on the subject, to close a $51 trillion fiscal gap, "you'd have to have an immediate and permanent 78 percent hike in the federal income tax."

These obligations are not imaginary. And unlike the 1980s and 1990s, economic growth cannot bail out the government because the Baby Boom retirement is at hand. Those born in 1946 will reach age 62 in 2008, allowing them to take early retirement and receive Social Security benefits.

"It's a number that's so large that people find it implausible, and so they don't think about it," said Alan Auerbach, a UC Berkeley economist who studies the issue and consults for the Kerry campaign. "But it's based simply on the projections we have for Social Security and Medicare. People aren't making these numbers up."

A pathbreaking study by Jagadeesh Gokhale of the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland and Kent Smetters, a former deputy assistant secretary at the Treasury -- commissioned by former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill -- estimated a $44 trillion fiscal gap. It laid out a few painful options on how to meet the liabilities:

-- More than double the payroll tax, immediately and forever, from 15.3 percent of wages to nearly 32 percent;

-- Raise income taxes by two-thirds, immediately and forever;

-- Cut Social Security and Medicare benefits by 45 percent, immediately and forever;

-- Or eliminate forever all discretionary spending, which includes the military, homeland security, highways, courts, national parks and most of what the federal government does outside of the transfer payments to the elderly.

Such corrective actions grow more severe each year. Waiting just until 2008, the end of the next presidency, would mean raising the payroll tax to 33.5 percent instead of 32 percent, the study found.

Gokhale said that fresh numbers from the Medicare trustees show the fiscal gap has since grown to $72 trillion, $10 trillion of that for Social Security and an astonishing $62 trillion for Medicare, the government health care program for the elderly.

"The long-term picture is pretty bad," Gokhale said.

Election's absent issue

These numbers are seldom discussed, least of all in the 2004 presidential race. Ironically, as the Baby Boom retirement has neared -- and the remedies grow more painful -- political discussion has faded. Gone is Ross Perot's anti-deficit crusade. Gone is Newt Gingrich's call for Medicare restraint. Gone is Al Gore's "lockbox" for the Social Security surplus.

Instead, Kerry and Bush promise only to halve the current deficit in four years -- "both (of them) relying on pretty imaginative accounting to get there" said Burman -- while promising more spending and more tax cuts.

Yet today's deficit is a tiny fraction of the government's actual liabilities, which are so daunting they promise to make Bush's tax cuts a distant memory and Kerry's health care plan a fantasy.

While Bush and Kerry propose to address parts of the problem, "the numbers don't add up on either side," Walker said.

Medicare makes up the bulk of these liabilities, driven mainly by the expanding elderly population and rapidly rising health costs. Social Security, more often discussed as a looming problem, actually accounts for far less in future debt.

While Congress squabbles over whether the administration hid the new prescription drug benefit's 10-year cost -- pegged by the White House at $534 billion versus CBO's $395 billion -- the actual liability incurred by the new drug benefit is estimated at $8 trillion to $12 trillion.

Kerry and Democrats call the drug benefit inadequate. They would do little to restrain Medicare costs other than allowing the importation of price-controlled drugs from Canada.

Bush and Republicans added the drug benefit along with costly subsidies to providers. Even optimists do not expect their modest market reforms to cut costs.

Promises, promises

Kerry has promised not to cut Social Security. "I will not cut benefits," he said recently. "I will not raise the retirement age."

Democrats generally cite "trust fund" numbers that show Social Security -- and Medicare to a lesser extent -- remaining solvent for decades, even though government officials repeatedly call the numbers an accounting fiction. CBO director Douglas Holzt-Eakin last week said the funds contain nothing but "electronic chits" that measure government obligations to itself.

Bush proposes adding private accounts to Social Security for younger workers, which could reduce future government obligations, but would do so by diverting a portion of the payroll tax, adding $1 trillion to the short-term deficit. That might have been feasible when Bush took office in 2000 facing a projected $5.6 trillion surplus, but the surplus is gone. Similar plans in Congress that instead rely more on benefit cuts have gone nowhere.

"The country's absolutely broke, and both Bush and Kerry are being irresponsible in not addressing this problem," Kotlikoff said. "This administration and previous administrations have set us up for a major financial crisis on the order of what Argentina experienced a couple of years ago."

If this sounds far-fetched, former Bush Treasury Undersecretary Peter Fisher and former Clinton Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin both alluded to such a scenario at a June budget forum in Washington.

"Having been involved in markets for a long, long time," Rubin said, "I can tell you these things can change unexpectedly and without warning," referring to potential financial market reactions to the U.S. fiscal position.

Fisher warned of a "pivot point" when "the collective wisdom of bond traders thinks that the deficit horizon has turned," adding, "Both Bob and I are nervous."

The world has seen fiscal imbalances of this sort before, in Asia and Russia in the late 1990s and more recently in South America. Such financial panics can be triggered by any number of events -- a flight from Treasury bonds by the foreigners who buy much of the U.S. debt, for example -- if investors' views of the market, which are focused on the short term, suddenly change.

"If you look at financial crises, they occur seemingly overnight," said Kotlikoff. "More and more pieces of straw drop on the camel's back, and all of a sudden, the camel collapses. ... Nobody knew exactly what day Argentina was going to go south or exactly what day Russia was going to default. The timing is up for grabs."

But early signs of a problem are now appearing, analysts said, starting with the mounting deficits under Bush caused not just by the recession and terrorist attacks, but also by enormous spending increases and tax cuts. The brief window of surpluses that appeared during the late 1990s economic boom offered a chance to address long-range liabilities, but those surpluses now are gone.

"Maybe the public doesn't want to hear it," Kotlikoff said. "Maybe politicians think ... the American public can't understand the truth or hear the truth or bear the truth. I think this is garbage. I think that people care about their kids and grandchildren and need to know the dangers facing them -- and us."