Are you a millionaire yet? What do you mean, not quite? Haven't you seen the latest statistics?

According to NFO WorldGroup, a market research and consulting firm, the number of millionaire households here in the U.S. has grown to the highest level in 20 years, moving up 14 percent by mid-year to 3.8 million.

NFO WorldGroup annually conducts a survey to determine the number of affluent households and this new one comes right on the heels of a report released by the government showing that poverty is also on the rise. So, while one end is going up, the other is going down, and I get the distinct feeling that eventually that's all we'll have: the very rich and the very poor and no one in the middle--other than legions of police.

Now, I am not being terribly optimistic about this but facts are beginning to speak louder and louder. For example, the U.S. Census Bureau just issued a report that the number of citizens wandering around without health insurance is nearly 44 million, and rising each year.

Going back to the millionaires. NFO defines a millionaire household as having $1 million or more in investable assets. They don’t count 401(k)s in this. Nor does it include vacation homes, stock options, investment real estate, or even annuities. Ouch! The wealth of most people is in those areas. If you want to include those in the measurements, then the number of millionaire households jumps up to 7.9 million. There's some relief that our 401(k) savings have not been in vain.

Why do we have this rise in high-net-worth households? According to Jeanette Luhr, the program manager for the study, several factors are at play including diversified portfolios, professional guidance, and a healthy dose of real estate exposure. In fact, NFO found that the percentage of total assets that affluent households allocated to real estate (excluding primary residences) doubled in the past year alone. "Low interest rates and rising property values have had a profound impact on these households," she says.

In addition, Luhr notes that the stabilization of the equity markets is a major factor in the increase. "Last year the bear market caught up with these folks and negatively impacted their numbers, but with the return of some market constancy, the number of millionaires has rebounded to record levels." So, what does this all mean? It sure appears that there is ample room to accumulate wealth and at the same time there is enough space to lose it. The question really may circle around what you think of the outlook on the economy. Millionaires, it is specifically noted, are cautiously optimistic. Fifty-seven percent of them have taken a "wait and see" approach toward investing. How about you?

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