The middle class is back — or so it seems.
That’s the message from the Census Bureau’s latest report on “Income and Poverty in the United States.” The news is mostly good. The income of the median household (the one exactly in the middle) rose to a record $59,039; the two-year increase was a strong 8.5 percent. Meanwhile, 2.5 million fewer Americans were living beneath the government’s poverty line ($24,563 for a family of four). The poverty rate fell from 13.5 percent of the population in 2015 to 12.7 percent in 2016.. . . Not all the evidence is upbeat. Here are three sobering takeaways.
First, men’s median wages for full-time, year-round work have stagnated.
. . . Second, the upper middle class is flourishing — but not the lower classes.
. . . Third, almost three-quarters of the rise of Americans living in poverty since 1990 reflects increases in Hispanic poverty — increases linked to immigration, whether legal or illegal.
Median household income in America was $59,039 last year, surpassing the previous high of $58,655 set in 1999, the Census Bureau said. The figure is adjusted for inflation and is one of the most closely watched indicators of how the middle class is faring financially, as the Census surveys nearly 100,000 homes. The Census said the uptick in earnings occurred because so many people found full-time jobs — or better-paying jobs — last year. America's poverty rate also fell to 12.7 percent, the lowest since 2007, the year before the financial crisis hit. The percent of Americans without health insurance for the entire year also dropped in 2016 to just 8.8 percent, largely thanks to expanding coverage under the Affordable Care Act.
U.S. incomes rose and the poverty rate fell last year, according to the Census Bureau’s annual report on economic well-being. The authoritative survey showed continuing progress since the 2007-09 recession. By some measures, however, Americans haven’t returned to levels of prosperity achieved nearly two decades ago.
The gap between the median income women and men make in the U.S. narrowed significantly for the first time since the recession. Men ages 15 and older employed full-time brought in a median income of $51,640 in 2016 for year-round work, compared with the $41,554 median income women made, adjusted for inflation, the Census Bureau said Tuesday. This pushes the widely cited female-to-male earnings measure to 80.5%—or 81 cents for every dollar a man makes—up 0.9 percentage point from 79.6% in 2015. Median income for men declined in 2016 after years of sluggish or no growth, while women’s median pay increased slightly, boosting the earnings measure higher.
More than half a century since the Civil Rights Act became law, U.S. workers continue to experience different levels of success depending on their race. Analysis using microdata on earnings shows that black men and women earn persistently lower wages compared with their white counterparts and that these gaps cannot be fully explained by differences in age, education, job type, or location. Especially troubling is the growing unexplained portion of the divergence in earnings for blacks relative to whites.