The fact that it is happening shouldn't surprise anyone, considering the housing bust and the stock market crash. But the size and speed of the decline is still breathtaking.
The net worth of American households fell by the largest amount in more than a half-century of record keeping during the fourth quarter of last year.
The Federal Reserve said Thursday that household net worth dropped by a record 9 percent from the level in the third quarter.
The decline was the sixth straight quarterly drop in net worth and underscored the battering that U.S. families are undergoing in the midst of a steep recession with unemployment surging and the value of their homes and investments plunging.
Net worth represents total assets such as homes and checking accounts minus liabilities like mortgages and credit card debt.
Family net worth had hit an all-time high of $64.36 trillion in the April-June quarter of 2007 but has fallen in every quarter since that time.
The record 9 percent drop in the fourth quarter pushed total net worth down to $51.48 trillion, a level that is 20 percent below the third quarter 2007 peak.