clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The media pays way too much attention to the stock market

Panic was everywhere at the NYSE on Wednesday, when the stock market dove by more than 460 points.
Panic was everywhere at the NYSE on Wednesday, when the stock market dove by more than 460 points.
Getty Images

If you pay any attention to the economics news, you know the US stock market stopped being its usual chipper self over the last month. Economic uncertainty in Europe and the end of the Fed's QE3 program, which has helped to prop up stock prices, are two factors that have sent stocks falling in recent weeks. The Dow Jones Industrial Average is currently down around 900 points from where it was a month ago — not huge, but a reversal in the index's relentless, three-year climb.

But for all the fearful questions about whether a market correction is coming, it's important to take some perspective: the stock market's latest oscillations and whatever crashes might be on the way will only directly affect around half of Americans, and their biggest effects will be on the richest people.

Federal Reserve data compiled by CNBC shows that the share of Americans who own stocks has hovered at around 50 percent for 15 years.

Stock ownership 2

And of course, not all of those people own the same amount of stock. As with incomes and wealth in general, stock ownership is highly concentrated at the top (and has been for a while), as this chart from the Economic Policy Institute shows. The bottom 80 percent of Americans by wealth only own just over 8 percent of all stock owned by US households.

EPI stocks
(Economic Policy Institute)

It's true that a slowdown in the stock market isn't exactly great news — some economists consider stocks a leading indicator of economic growth. But just as the latest stock market gains have mostly accrued to people at the top, the effects of a slowdown will be felt the most by the richest Americans.

Sign up for the newsletter Today, Explained

Understand the world with a daily explainer plus the most compelling stories of the day.