The number of people living in poverty fell again last year, reaching the lowest level since the Great Recession began in 2007, with 12.7 percent of Americans living below the federal poverty line, the U.S. Census Bureau reported on Sept. 12.
Politicians on both sides of the aisle will likely claim some credit for the improving poverty rate, and a 3.2 percent rise in real median household income in 2016, even though both numbers were largely fueled by the nation’s economic recovery.
The stark reality is that 40.6 million Americans lived in poverty last year. Of that amount, about a third – or 13.3 million Americans – were kids.
And longer-term trends are less encouraging than 2016 findings. From 2000 to 2016, the poverty rate in the U.S. rose 1.4 percent, while the child poverty rate increased 1.8 percent, according to an analysis of Census data by the Economic Policy Institute.
“While families saw important progress last year, there is still a lot of economic pain with 30 percent of families living paycheck to paycheck….The White House and Congress must step up to create jobs and provide certainty to Americans fighting to get by,” Melissa Boteach, vice president of the Poverty to Prosperity program at the Center for American Progress, said in a statement.
Rising incomes and falling poverty rates in the census report are signs of improvement after a steep recession and then slow recovery that left most American households with barely any income increases.
The lack of meaningful raises left many people feeling left behind, economically, a sentiment that factored into Election 2016.
Sluggish wages also likely helped fuel campaigns to raise minimum wages around the country, from St. Louis, Missouri to San Diego, California.
Overall, incomes were looking better in 2016.
Incomes for a typical U.S. household, adjusted for inflation, rose to $59,039, the Census Bureau reported. Last year’s figure is slightly above the previous peak of $58,665, reached in 1999.
It is also the first time since the Great Recession ended in 2009 that the typical household earned more than it did in 2007, when the historic economic slump began.
The median is the point at which half the households fall below, and half are above.
For families, the news was not as positive. The percentage of children in poverty remained far higher, with 18 percent of children below the poverty line in 2016.
But that number was down from 19.7 percent in 2015, the Census Bureau reported in its annual release of national poverty, income and health insurance coverage.
The poverty line varies, depending on the size of a family. For a family of four the poverty line is $24,563, according to the Census Bureau.
“We know that kids in poor families are four times more likely to be in fair or poor health, nine times more likely to suffer from food insecurity and twice as likely to repeat a grade and drop out of high school,” Cara Baldari from First Focus, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group for families, said in a statement.
“Congress should commit to cutting child poverty in half within a decade so all kids – who are ultimately tomorrow’s leaders – have a chance at a brighter future.”
Once again, there were wide gaps in the poverty rates among racial groups.
The poverty rate among Black residents stood at 22 percent in 2016, sharply higher than the overall 12.7 percent rate, though it was an improvement from 2015 when it was 24.1 percent, according to the Census Bureau report.
In addition, 19.4 percent of Hispanics residents lived in poverty, a drop from 21.4 percent the year before.
Of all poor people counted in official census statistics in 2016, White Americans made up the largest portion at more than 42 percent. That was more than 17 million people.
The annual economic snapshot also showed that the percentage of Americans who had health insurance last year, either for part or all of 2016, inched up to 91.2 percent from 90.9 percent the year earlier.
Income inequality among U.S. households remained stable, according to the Census Bureau’s Gini index, which was statistically unchanged from 2015 to 2016.
Even as the poverty rate dropped and income rose nationally, the nation’s economic recovery has not been even. In New Mexico, one of the poorest states in the country, for example, the good news was not as clear.
“I am glad that this happening at the federal level,” Marcela Díaz, executive director of the immigrant-led Somos Un Pueblo Unido in New Mexico, said. “We feel like we are really slow to recover.”
Paul Nyhan is the senior writer for Equal Voice News. Brad Wong, news editor for Equal Voice News contributed to this report, which includes information from The Associated Press. All original and contracted Equal Voice News content – articles, photos and videos – can be reproduced for free, as long as proper credit and a link to our homepage are included. Meet community organizations that work with Marguerite Casey Foundation on ending poverty and improving cities.
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