NEW YORK (MainStreet) — It was a long, slow crawl, but most (61%) of high-net worth Americans say they have finally emerged from the recession and are better off today than they were before September 2008. A study by BMO Private Bank reveals that only 7% of U.S. households with investible assets of $1 million or more now say they are worse off since the financial collapse.

Not only have these affluent investors bounced back, they are upbeat about the future. The study reports that most high-net worth Americans (60%) say they are optimistic about the U.S. economy, as well as the Asian financial outlook (53%), but less than one-third think the European economy will improve anytime soon.

"While the recovery started slowly, it's clear that the country's economy has been gaining steam in recent years," says Terry Jenkins, President and CEO of BMO Private Bank. "We're hearing a renewed sense of optimism when speaking to our clients. But they're also aware that the economic situation is quite fragile; they want to ensure, when managing their wealth, that they are insulating themselves as best as possible against any potential market downturns." U.S. investors surveyed said equities (75%) and real estate (61%) provide the best opportunity for solid returns within the next five years. Drilling down to specifics, respondents identified technology (80%), energy (77%) and health (77%) as the best sector plays. They are least optimistic about the outlook for the manufacturing (50%), agricultural (46%) and mining (33%) sectors.

And these affluent households are returning to their pre-recession lifestyles by spending the same, or more, on entertainment and leisure activities (86%), travel and vacations (83%), club memberships (81%), collections and hobbies (80%) and clothing and accessories (77%).

"It's a positive development that so many high-net worth Americans have returned to, at the very least, pre-recession levels of consumer spending," says Jenkins. "This represents an indication of the level of confidence they have in the country and also helps spur further economic growth."

But Jenkins admits the recovery hasn't touched every American household.

"While there's every indication that the national economy has picked up steam in the last few years, it is important to acknowledge the large number of Americans who are still struggling to recover from the effects of the recession – an ongoing issue that continues to constrain growth."

--Written for MainStreet by Hal M. Bundrick