The number of affluent households in the United States has decreased, according to initial research from the annual Affluent Market Research Program by TNS, a marketing company based in New York.

In 2007, 16.4 million households had $500,000 or more in net worth, not including primary residences. Today, that number has fallen to 15.6 million—a 5% drop.

"The decline in households is not surprising given [current] economic conditions," said Ellen Sills-Levy, senior vice president of investment at TNS North America. "After several years of strong gains, all three major stock market indices posted losses over the past year. Coupled with the impact of increasing inflation and a depreciating real estate market, even the affluent are feeling the strain."

And they don't seem to be counting on much improvement very soon. Seventy percent of affluent Americans do not expect the overall U.S. economy to get any better in the next six months, though they do not expect it to worsen either.

Nearly 80% do not think the financial health of their employer will improve within the next half year.

But the affluent "are not wholly pessimistic either," Sills-Levy notes. Almost 30% of affluent Americans believe the broader stock market will see some improvement in the next six months, and 34% think the value of their household investments will be better within six months as well. Nearly half expect the value of their investments to remain the same.

"Where the economy will lead us in the next year is uncertain," she said. "But clearly the affluent, as well as the rest of us, will be carefully monitoring its progress. In the meantime, they remain cautious about the immediate future."

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