Why the Rising Wealth Gap? Look to the Stock Gap

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The widening gap between the wealthy and the rest of America during the recovery can largely be explained in one word: stocks. According to recent data from the Federal Reserve, America has the lowest level of stock ownership in 18 years. Yet stock ownership for the wealthy is at a new high—and that has accounted for most of their good fortune compared to the rest of America. The Federal Reserve Survey of Consumer Finance found that only 48.8 percent of Americans held stock either directly or indirectly in 2012, the latest period measured. That's the lowest level since 1995, when 40.5 percent of Americans held some form of stock. (Indirect ownership of stock includes stocks held in mutual funds, 401-K plans and other investment vehicles.)

The survey said only 14 percent of Americans own stocks directly—down from 21 percent in 2001. But even more than most assets in America, their ownership is highly skewed toward the wealthy. Fully 93 percent of the wealthiest 10 percent of Americans own stocks. That's nearly twice the level for the middle 50 percent and far more than the 26 percent stock-ownership rate for the bottom 40 percent.


-- CNBC's Robert Frank