Longer-Term View Adds Context to Census Poverty Data

Chelsea West
September 13, 2017

Median household income rose 3.2 percent to $59,039 last year, marking the second consecutive year of income gains since the economic crisis, the U.S. Census Bureau said Tuesday.

The median household income was $59,000, up 3.2 percent from 2015.

In a stark reminder of the damage done by the Great Recession and of the modest recovery that followed, the median American household previous year finally earned more than it did in 1999. But Census officials cautioned against comparing the figures because the bureau has changed its methodology over the years. Hispanic households have a real median income of $47,675. It is based on interviews with 70,000 households and includes detailed data on incomes and poverty across a range of demographic groups. Yet that growth came after a steep recession and a slow recovery that left most American households with only meager pay increases.

Still, male workers - one of President Trump's core group of supporters - earned less last year than they did a year earlier, while income inequality shows no signs of abating, according to the latest Census data.

The Census Bureau also released its Supplemental Poverty Measure, which takes into account government assistance and certain expenses not factored into the official poverty rate. That also was the second consecutive year of a decline in the nation's poverty rate.

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"The decline in the unisured is clearly the effect of the Affordable Care Act, and this is particularly pronounced in states that expanded Medicaid coverage", said John Rizzo, the Long Island Association's chief economist and a professor of health economics at Stony Brook University.

The bureau reported 40.6 million people in the United States are considered living in poverty, or 2.5 million fewer than in 2015. Tom Hirschl, sociologist and co-author of "Chasing the American Dream: Understanding What Shapes Our Fortunes", says that while the numbers today reflect an incremental improvement, middle-class and working-class Americans still feel insecure about their economic future. About 1.2 million more Americans earned income in 2016 than in 2015, and 2.2 million more had full-time year-round jobs.

The report found that the gender gap in wages narrowed a year ago for the first time since 2007. Asians, who have the highest median income of $81,500, did not see a statistically significant change in income.

The gap between the earnings of women and men narrowed slightly in 2016, with women now earning just more than 80 cents for every dollar men earn.

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