Median income was $63,179, essentially flat from a year earlier after three years of increases
WASHINGTON—American incomes remained essentially flat in 2018 after three straight years of growth, according to Census Bureau figures released Tuesday that offer a broad look at U.S. households’ financial well-being.
Median household income was $63,179 in 2018, an uptick of 0.9% that census officials said isn’t statistically significant from the prior year based on figures adjusted for inflation. The poverty rate in 2018 was 11.8%, a decrease of a half percentage point from 2017, marking the fourth consecutive annual decline in the national poverty rate. It was the first time the official poverty rate fell significantly below its level at the start of the recession in 2007.
The share of Americans who lack health insurance rose for the first time since 2009, according to the figures. In 2018, 8.5% of people, or 27.5 million, didn’t have health insurance at any point during the year, compared with 7.9% of people, or 25.6 million, the previous year. That reversal comes years after the 2010 Affordable Care Act expanded insurance coverage to millions of Americans.
The figures released Tuesday offer fresh insight into how the economy fared as it approached its 10th year of expansion. In recent weeks, the government has revised downward its estimates for job gains, economic output and corporate profits at various points in time since early last year. Previous government surveys had suggested income growth picked up last year, though the census figures are considered more reliable because of the quality and scope of the data.
Census officials said that median household income was essentially the same as it was during previous peaks in 1999 and 2007.
Income growth over the past decade hasn’t been as strong as some economists would have expected given the tightness of the U.S. labor market. The unemployment rate hovered at or below 4% last year.
Part of the reason is employers have become more adept at holding down wages by using technology, and consolidation in industries such as telecommunications and banking also has damped income growth, said Carl Tannenbaum, chief economist for Northern Trust. The share of workers who are in unions, which push for worker pay raises, also continues to decline steadily.
“We’re better off by almost all measures than we were 10 years ago,” Mr. Tannenbaum said. “But there are still some…amber flags that show that economic security remains more elusive for some families.”
Lisa Glivar, a 37-year-old hairstylist in Golden, Colo., said her earnings are being pinched because customers are leaving smaller tips and foregoing treatments.
“I haven’t been able to get ahead,” said Ms. Glivar, who last year began cleaning an Airbnb rental for a client to help boost her income. She also moved to a styling location with cheaper rent to lift her bottom line. “I’ve never been able to hit that next threshold of $50,000 a year,” she said. Last year her income was several thousand dollars below that.
The Trump administration pointed to the poverty decline as evidence that its economic agenda is helping the neediest Americans. “Employment is the best way out of poverty, and President Trump’s policies have made the labor market hotter now than during any time in our history,” said Tomas Philipson, acting chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers.
Democratic presidential candidate and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders said the figures showed “our rigged system allows billionaires to get richer, while working families struggle to survive.”
The new figures showed that the number of full-time, year-round workers increased by 2.3 million. When looked at by race and ethnicity, median household incomes in America were essentially flat in 2018 for all groups except ...
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