More millionaires in 2009

NEW YORK - Unemployment remains at near-record levels, and most Americans are struggling to rebuild their battered finances. But the country's wealthy are once again doing just fine, thank you.

No group was immune to the downturn. In 2008, as the financial crisis raged, the stock market hit bottom and the Great Recession ate into the economy, the number of millionaires in the United States plunged.

But last year the number of millionaires bounced up sharply, new data show.

And after that decline and rebound, the millionaire class held a larger percentage of the country's wealth than it did in 2007.

"It's been a recession where everyone took a hit - with the bottom taking a bigger hit," said Timothy Smeeding, a University of Wisconsin professor who studies economic inequality. But "the wealthy alone have bounced back."

The return of the millionaires last year was not limited to the United States. China saw the swiftest growth in millionaires, and now has the third-most of any country, trailing the U.S. and Japan, according to the data released Thursday by Boston Consulting Group.

The consulting firm's latest report on wealth, one of the first broad depictions of how wealth shifted in 2009, indicates that the number of U.S. households with at least $1 million in "bankable" assets climbed 15 percent last year to 4.7 million after tumbling 21 percent in 2008.

"Assets have recovered much faster than we expected, to be candid," said Monish Kumar, a managing director at Boston Consulting Group.

The rebound largely reflects the stock market's powerful surge from 12-year lows reached in March 2008. Even though the long bear market that began in late 2007 continued into early last year, the Dow Jones industrials gained 19 percent over the course of 2009.

© 2010 Knoxville News Sentinel. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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