As Average Americans Lose 55% of their Wealth, the DC-Connected Enter the Gilded Age

Photo Credit: 401(K) 2013

What Sequester? Washington Booms as a New Gilded Age Takes Root

By Elizabeth Williamson. On a bright spring morning, Debbie Driesman and her interior decorator surveyed progress on Norton Manor, the 40,000 square-foot house she’s building with her husband, information-technology entrepreneur Frank Islam. To make way for the French chateau-style manse, the family bought two houses on adjacent 4-acre lots and invited the local fire department to destroy them. For practice.

The manor, in suburban Washington, features a reflecting pool (just as the Capitol does), east and west wings (like the White House) and is configured for easy Secret Service coverage when VIP guests attend the couple’s Democratic Party fundraisers. Decorator Skip Sroka scoured the globe for Norton Manor’s marble fireplaces, hand-loomed carpets and several tons of gilded and Venetian chandeliers. The gardens are modeled, in part, after those of Henry VIII’s Hampton Court palace.

“If there’s something he can’t have that he wants, you have to find a way,” Ms. Driesman says of her exacting husband. “You can’t just tell him ‘no.’ ”

The sprawling compound is a product of Washington’s Gilded Age—a time of lush business profits initially fueled by government outsourcing and war. Some demographers predicted the boom here would ebb as federal spending shrank amid troop withdrawals from the Middle East and efforts to trim the deficit.

Instead, the region has shown surprising resilience, thanks to an economy that has steadily broadened beyond the government. More than a generation of heavy federal spending, it turns out, has provided the seed money for a Washington economy that now operates globally—less tied to the vicissitudes of the capital’s political rhythms. Read more from this story HERE.
___________________________________________________________

Wealth of most Americans down 55% since recession

By Constantine Von Hoffman. Increasing housing prices and the stock market’s posting all-time highs haven’t helped the plight most Americans. The average U.S. household has recovered only 45 percent of the wealth they lost during the recession, according to a report released yesterday from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.

This finding is a very different picture than one painted in a report earlier this year by the Fed that calculated Americans as a whole had regained 91 percent of their losses. The writers of the report released yesterday point out that the earlier number is based on aggregate household-net-worth data. However, this isn’t adjusted for inflation, population growth or the nature of the wealth. Further, they say much of recovery in net worth is because of the stock market, which means most of the improvement has been a boon only to wealthy families.

“Clearly, the 91 percent recovery of wealth losses portrayed by the aggregate nominal measure paints a different picture than the 45 percent recovery of wealth losses indicated by the average inflation-adjusted household measure,” the report said. “Considering the uneven recovery of wealth across households, a conclusion that the financial damage of the crisis and recession largely has been repaired is not justified,” the researchers said.

Household wealth plunged $16 trillion from the top of the real estate bubble in the third quarter of 2007 to the bottom of the bust in the first quarter of 2009. By the last three months of 2012, American households as a group had regained $14.7 trillion.

The report says almost two-thirds of the increase in aggregate household wealth is due to rising stock prices. This has disproportionately benefited the richest households: About 80 percent of stocks are held by the wealthiest 10 percent of the population. Read more from this story HERE.