Working Papers

The Rich Got Richer

The Effects of the Financial Crisis on Household Well-Being, 2007-2009


The 2007-2009 financial crisis initially appeared to have destroyed a huge amount of wealth in the U.S. Housing prices dropped about 21% across the country and as much as 50% in some places and the stock market dropped by nearly 50% as well. This paper examines how the financial crisis differentially affected households at different parts of the income and wealth distributions. Our results show that all households lost about the same percentage of their wealth in that period. But because households in the top 10% of the wealth distribution owned many different kinds of assets, their wealth soon recovered. The bottom 80% of the wealth distribution had more of their wealth tied up in housing. We show that financial distress, indexed by foreclosures, being behind in mortgage payments, and changes in house prices were particularly concentrated in households in the bottom 80% of the wealth distribution. These households lost a large part of their wealth and have not yet recovered. Households that were most deeply affected were those who entered the housing market late and took out subprime loans. African-American and Latino households were particularly susceptible as they were bought houses late in the price bubble often with subprime loans.