Another Green Shoot: Millionaire Households Rising

Millionaire households in the U.S. are rising again, largely because the mass affluent stayed the course with their stocks during the downturn and are reaping the benefits of the market's recovery. But frugality also played a big role.

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Plenty of questions linger about the economic recovery. But along with a mildly improving housing market and jobs picture, add this to the list of economic green shoots signaling better times: the U.S. is minting millionaires again.

The number of millionaire households rose for the third consecutive year in 2011, according to a report from Spectrem Group. The U.S. now has 8.6 million households with a net worth of at least $1 million above and beyond any equity in a primary residence. That’s up from 6.7 million in 2008 but still shy of the 9.2 million millionaire households in 2007.

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The wealth of the affluent is coming back at every threshold. According to Spectrem:

  • Those with $100,000 or more in net worth rose to 36.7 million from 36.2 million.
  • Those with $500,000 or more in net worth climbed to 13.8 million from 13.5 million.
  • Those with $5 million or more in net worth rose to 1.08 million from 1.06 million.
  • Those with $25 million or more in net worth grew to 107,000 from 105,000.

These gains come largely on the back of a rising stock market, underscoring how far the market has climbed since the Dow Jones Industrial Average bottomed at 6,547 on March 9, 2009. The Dow recently topped 13,000, though it remains shy of its all-time high of 14,164.

Affluent households managed to hang on for the recovery. But it’s not like it was easy. Spectrem found that 83% of households with more than $100,000 net worth, not counting home equity, remain worried about the future. They say the American Dream will become increasingly difficult to attain. Those under the age of 40 defined the American Dream as home ownership; those over 40 defined it as having sufficient retirement assets.

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The wealthiest group of millionaire households overwhelmingly said that smart investing was the key to their wealth. That’s in stark contrast to the least of the mass affluent—those with net worth of $100,000 to $1 million. That group attributed their wealth chiefly to frugality. Both groups also cited hard work and education.