The U.S. stock market has never been higher, at least in nominal terms: The Dow Jones Industrial Average is above 15,000, though its inflation-adjusted apex has yet to be reached. (Jeff Cox of CNBC pegs it at 15,731.54.) And the S&P 500 continues to set new records as well.
At the same time, U.S. wages are stagnant, and interest rates for bank accounts are near zero. Americans, in other words, could really use the income provided by stocks.
Unfortunately, according to new research by Gallup, U.S. stock ownership is at a record low:
Just over half of Americans, 52%, now say they personally, or jointly with a spouse, own stock outright or as part of a mutual fund or self-directed retirement account.
Gallup conducted its annual Economy and Finance survey from April 4-14, and found that, for the fifth year in a row, fewer than 60 percent of Americans own stocks. Moreover, the percentage who do has been generally decreasing since 2007, the year the recession began, and now stands at its lowest point since Gallup began tracking it in 1998.
Gallup's Lydia Saad suggests that the level of stock market participation is linked to unemployment: "Americans' ownership of stock may, in fact, be more a function of their ability to buy it, than of whether its value is soaring." Unemployment currently stands at 7.5 percent, which represents improvement but is still above the rate generally considered healthy (5 to 6 percent).
So who's being left out of the rally? Those under 30 aren't profiting, nor are households making less than $30,000. No surprises there. But the steepest drops in stock ownership since April 2008, when the rate of overall investment in the market was 10 points higher, have been among 30-49 year-olds (down 14 percent) and middle-income earners (down 16 percent) -- "the groups for whom stock ownership five years ago may have been the biggest financial stretch," in Gallup's words.
For the survey's complete findings, head over to Gallup.