It was a good year to be rich. Or ultra-rich, for that matter.
The number of U.S. households with a net worth of $1 million or more -- excluding wealth derived from a primary residence -- grew 16 percent last year, according to a new report by the Spectrem Group, a Chicago-based consulting firm. After a 27 percent decline in the number of millionaire households in 2008, the ranks of U.S. millionaires swelled to 7.8 million last year.
And it was an even better year to be an "Ultra High Net Worth Individual," defined as someone with a net worth of $5 million or more. That population grew 17 percent in 2009 to 980,000.
"The nation's millionaires -- together with its Ultra High Net Worth households -- are bouncing back from the recession. Following a sharp decline in 2008, both groups saw their numbers advance nicely in 2009, with the U.S. millionaire population rising to 7.8 million. While still well short of its all-time high of 9.2 million in 2007, this year's growth in the millionaire population is nevertheless welcome news for an economy still working to recover," said George H. Walper, Jr., president of Spectrem Group in a statement.
The number of American millionaires seems to have risen in tandem with both work productivity growth and, unfortunately, with the unemployment rate, which has hovered around 10 percent in the last few months.
While productivity growth signals heightened efficiency, it also generally means that companies require fewer workers, so the country's rapid rise in productivity -- which surged 6.2 percent last quarter -- may be, as a recent paper put it, one of the "main drivers" of the jobless recovery.
Of course, household incomes have been growing unevenly for years -- even during times of seeming prosperity. For 2007, the year for which the most recent data is available, the top one percent of earners -- those with incomes of at least $398,000 per year -- enjoyed a 6.8 percent growth (versus the 3.7 percent average), boosting their share of the country's total income to 23.5 percent.