One of the clouds hanging over the economy has been weak income growth for millions of American families, but that stagnation may finally be coming to an end. According to a new report from the Census Bureau, American workers are doing better than they have in years, at least in terms of median income and the availability of health insurance.
The report, released today, finds that the median income in the United States jumped 5.3 percent between 2014 and 2015, to $56,516 per year. At the same time, the poverty rate declined by 1.2 percent and the percentage of Americans with health insurance increased.
The increase in median income was the first recorded by the Census Bureau since 2007, signaling an economy that appears to have finally shaken off the effects of the Great Recession, which began in 2008. However, even the sizable 5.2 percent jump wasn’t enough to bring inflation-adjusted median incomes back to the level Americans enjoyed before the recession.
“Real median household income in 2015 was 1.6 percent lower than in 2007, the year before the most recent recession, and 2.4 percent lower than the median household income peak that occurred in 1999,” the study found.
The increase in household income occurred across all racial groups, but was sharpest among Hispanics. However, the prevalence of income inequality in the U.S. remained largely unchanged between 2014 and 2015.
The Census data also found that nearly 1 million families earned enough to lift themselves above the federal poverty line. In 2014, 11.6 percent of US families were living in poverty. That figure dropped to 10.4 percent in 2015, bringing the number of impoverished families down to 8.6 million from 9.5 million.
(The poverty line for a family of four was set at $24,257 in 2015, far below what most would consider adequate. The figure is also not sensitive to regional cost of living differences.)
The percentage of Americans who had health insurance during at least part of 2015 rose to 90.9, up from 89.6 percent the previous year.
The Census data might be a blessing for Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, who has suffered a difficult week, enduring bad publicity after she referred to half of her opponents’ supporters as “deplorables” and then collapsing outside a 9/11 memorial service due to what was later revealed to be complications related to pneumonia.
The data might also go some distance toward explaining why President Barack Obama is enjoying the highest approval ratings he has seen since his earliest days in office. The president’s approval rating rose to 58 percent in a Washington Post/ABC News poll released yesterday.
However, the news wasn’t so good that Republicans in Congress couldn’t find a way to complain about it.
“Today’s report is another disappointing confirmation that too many Americans are still struggling to provide for their families and reach their full potential,” Rep. Kevin Brady, the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee said in a statement. “The federal government invests billions of dollars each year in programs to help low-income Americans—but more than 43 million people continue to live in poverty. It shouldn’t be this way in America.”