Bullard Says Downturn Hardest on Young, Less-Educated Families

Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis President James Bullard said U.S. households with the lowest net worth at the start of the 2007-2009 recession suffered the biggest financial setback from the downturn in percentage terms.

“While many Americans lost wealth during the Great Recession, younger, less-educated and non-white families lost the greatest percentage of their wealth,” Bullard said in a statement in the St. Louis Fed’s annual report released today. “Household deleveraging, or paying down debt, has played a key role in the recent recession and the slow recovery.”

The most-vulnerable households held a disproportionate amount of their wealth in housing and shouldered higher levels of debt before the downturn, Bullard said, citing a study from the Fed regional bank’s Center for Household Financial Stability. The center was created to research household balance sheets and implications for monetary policy.

Households have recovered an average of 45 percent of their wealth prior to the 18-month recession, according to the study by Ray Boshara, the Center’s director, and William Emmons, the Center’s chief economist.

Individuals with weaker balance sheets are less likely to attend college and are less financially stable and economically mobile, according to the study. The harm done to household wealth may be hampering consumer spending and limiting the expansion.

“As we learn more about how microeconomic activity affects the performance of the macroeconomy, this research could have important public-policy implications, including insights for monetary policy,” Bullard said in the annual report.

The Federal Reserve Bank of New York last month said U.S. households reduced debt during the first quarter by 1 percent to the lowest level since 2006, even as student debt bucked the trend. Household debt fell to $11.2 trillion in the first quarter compared with a peak burden of $12.7 trillion in the third quarter of 2008, the New York Fed said May 14.

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