Despite the pandemic leaving thousands of businesses closed and millions unemployed, the level of household wealth actually increased during the past 18 months. The Federal Reserve Flow of Funds data for the first quarter of 2021 showed the U.S. household balance sheet standing at a grand total of $154.2 trillion, up from $134.3 trillion in the fourth quarter of 2019. Household wealth did fall to $127.8 trillion at the end of March 2020, but rebounded after the stimulus packages and relief payments were enacted.
Wealthy Americans have been the biggest recipient of the gains. “The biggest contribution to the financial wealth gains came from corporate equities and mutual funds due primarily to risk appetite rebounding and equity markets surging higher on unprecedented Federal Reserve and government stimulus,” the report said. “The same reasons led to strong performances for pension and life insurance funds.”
The report also found substantial economic gains made within low-income households. “Lower income households will also have contributed significantly to this increase,” the ING report found. “Government stimulus checks … combined with uprated and extended unemployment benefits contributed to huge increases in household incomes over the past 14 months.”
While the stimulus check may have temporarily provided low-income households with higher disposable income, in the long run, significant disruptions to employment and lack of stable incomes could leave individuals in worse positions than before.
Instances of food insecurity, poor educational outcomes, and marital/relationship issues were exacerbated for some under the pandemic, an Urban Institute survey found. The instability associated with covid initially increased poverty within the first few months that the pandemic began in the U.S. The Human Rights Watch conducted an analysis earlier this year finding that “the pandemic’s economic fallout has had a devastating and disproportionate impact on the rights of low-income people who were already struggling.”
Even so, the response to the pandemic has been effective in increasing wealth and income levels across the nation, according to the ING report. And as more people return to work, greater spending opportunities may fuel greater inflation. “In an environment where supply constraints persist, this adds another reason to argue that the demand growth in the economy is likely to outpace the supply side capacity [and] another argument for inflation staying higher for longer,” the report said.
Ihsaan Fanusie is a writer at Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter @IFanusie.
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