The American Dream Is Fading, Even for Millionaires
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The Fiscal Times
March 25, 2012

The recovering economy and booming stock market helped mint 200,000 more millionaires in the U.S. last year – but even those wealthy Americans are worried about the future.

According to the results of a survey by Spectrem Group, a Lake Forest, Ill.-based consulting firm focused on the affluent, the financial concerns among households with net worth between $100,000 and $1 million have not fallen much even as the economy has shown signs of improvement. 

“What has changed over the last three to four years is concerns that folks have for their children or grandchildren,” said George Walper, Spectrem’s president. While parents were always concerned about being able to provide for their kids’ educations, the financial worries have become much more broad-based. “Folks are saying, ‘I’m not sure the next generation – my children or grandchildren – will have as good a life as I did.’ That’s a pretty significant change in our country’s psyche.”

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That concern extends to millionaires, 57 percent of whom say they are concerned about the future of their descendants. That has fallen substantially from 69 percent last year, “but it’s still much higher than it was pre-2008,” Walper says.

The number of U.S. households with a seven-figure net worth, not including their primary residence, edged up to 8.6 million last year. The financial crisis took a heavy toll on the number of new millionaires being minted, which plunged by 27 percent from 2007 to 2008. Since then, though, the millionaire’s club has grown for three straight years, even as the economy has struggled generate stable and solid growth. Even so, the club grew much less in 2011 – 2 percent – than in either of the prior two years, and membership still hasn’t gotten back to its pre-recession level. In 2007, there were 9.2 million households with more than $1 million in assets.

The survey of 12,519 Americans also found that the ranks of “affluent investors” in general – defined here as those with net worth of $100,000 or more – also grew in 2011:
• $100,000 or more: 36.7 million, up from 36.2 million in 2010 and 31.2 million in 2008.
• $500,000 or more: 13.8 million, up from 13.5 million in 2010
• $5 million or more: 1.078 million, up from 1.061 million in 2010
• $25 million or more: 107,000, up slightly from 105,000 in 2010

At the same time, 83 percent of those affluent investors worry that it’s “getting harder to achieve the American Dream,” – whether that means owning a home, as 59 percent of those under 40 tended to define it, or saving enough for retirement, as nearly 70 percent of investors over age 50 described it.

Executive Editor Yuval Rosenberg oversees coverage of business, the economy, technology and Wall Street. A former web editor at WNYC, Fortune and Newsweek, he also writes on a wide range of subjects.