The six members of the Walton family featured on Forbes’ list of the 400 wealthiest Americans have a combined net worth today of $102.7 billion—more than the bottom 40 percent of American families combined.
The figure was tweeted by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in mid-July and confirmed by the Florida-based fact-checking outfit Politifact.
From 2007 to 2010, according to the Federal Reserve’s Survey of Consumer Finances, typical families lost 39 percent of their wealth. In 2007, the median family net worth was $126,400. By 2010, amid the financial crisis, it had dropped to $77,300.
In economics, wealth is typically measured in terms of net worth, which is defined as the value of assets minus liabilities—the amount owed in debt. Because net worth does not include income, someone who earns a good salary but has lots of debt can have a negative net worth.
—Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.
Sylvia Allegretto, a labor economist at the Center on Wage and Employment Dynamics at the University of California-Berkeley, compared the Waltons’ cumulative net worth with that of the overall population, as cited in the Survey of Consumer Finances. (She used the Waltons’ wealth from 2010, which was valued at $89.5 billion.)
Allegretto found that in 2007, the wealth held by the six Waltons was equal to that of the bottom 30.5 percent of families in the U.S. But by 2010, the Waltons’ share equaled the entire bottom 41.5 percent of families.
That 41.5 percent represents nearly 49 million families, notes Josh Bivens at the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute. While median family wealth fell by 38.8 percent, Bivens wrote, the wealth of the Walton family members rose from $73.3 billion in 2007 to $89.5 billion in 2010, or about 22 percent growth.
Brave New Films (CC BY 2.0)