Income up, poverty down across the U.S.

By Alfred Lubrano

Life improved overall in America in 2016, as income rose while poverty decreased, and the percentage of people without health insurance coverage declined.

Between 2015 and 2016, median household income in the United States was $59,039, up 3.2 percent over the nation’s 2015 median income of $57,230, according to figures released Tuesday morning by the U.S. Census Bureau.

During that same period, the U.S. poverty rate decreased from 13.5 percent to 12.7 percent, meaning that 2.5 million fewer people were living in poverty in 2016 as compared to 2015. Overall, there were 40.6 million Americans living in poverty in 2016, down from 43.1 million in 2015, Census figures show.

Finally, the percentage of people without health insurance coverage in 2016 was 8.8 percent, down from 9.1 percent in 2015.

The findings come from two reports entitled, “Income and Poverty in the United States: 2016,” and “Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2016.”

On Thursday, the Census plans to release data that details the extent of poverty in the region.

Despite improvements between 2015 and 2016, analysts saw problems in the details.

“Poverty is still sky-high,” noted Joel Berg, CEO of Hunger Free America, a New York-based nonprofit advocating for the impoverished. He noted that there are 3.3 million more Americans in poverty today than in 2007, before the Great Recession. Meanwhile, Berg said, the Dow Jones Industrial Average rose by 13 percent since 2007, while the collective worth of the 400 wealthiest Americans increased to $2.4 trillion.

Referencing the decline in the percentage of people without health insurance, Berg added that it proves the often-stated narrative that Obamacare has failed “clearly isn’t true.”

Economist Salim Furth of the conservative Heritage Foundation said Tuesday’s reports trumpeted “great news” for the nation. He added, “It’s showing the economy is quite strong.”

Most of the increase in the median income, Furth said, is a result of people working more hours, as opposed to a rise in wages.

“This is what you expect to see in a recovery,” he said. “We’re getting back what we lost in the recession.”

For some advocates, Census figures show that poverty remains a persistent problem for women and children.

Anna Chu, of the National Women’s Law Center in Washington, pointed to data showing women are nearly 1.4 times more likely to be poor than men. Figures show there were 16 million poor women 18 and older in 2016, compared with 11 million men of the same age.

“Being a woman in America increases the odds of being poor,” said Chu, a vice president at the law center. “It’s grim.”

Children seem to suffer even more.

While the new data show that the children’s poverty rate dipped from 19.7 percent to 18 percent between 2015 and 2016, the 13.3 million children still living in poverty remains “a national disgrace,” contended Ari Goldberg, vice president of First Focus, a bipartisan children’s advocacy group in Washington.

“Although children make up 23 percent of the population, they account for 33 percent of those living in poverty,” Goldberg said.

Conditions also are difficult for young people looking to start a family.

An analysis by the nonpartisan Center for Law and Social Policy in Washington, an anti-poverty nonprofit, shows that 22 percent of parents under age 30 are poor. “We are in a fragile moment,” said CLASP executive director Olivia Golden.

Assessing the overall improvements in income, Mark Price, labor economist with the Keystone Research Center in Harrisburg, said the “good 2016 report” reflected a much smaller unemployment rate. At its worst during the recession in October 2009, he said, the U.S. unemployment rate was 10 percent, compared to 4.4 percent last month.

Similarly, Pennsylvania’s unemployment rate dropped from 8.5 percent in May 2009 to 5 percent in July.

As good as the new numbers are, however, “we still haven’t recovered from where we were as a result of the recession,” Price said. “There haven’t been enough of these good years in a row yet,” he added.

And as the federal government contemplates future budgets, advocates for the poor are concerned about President Trump’s stated preference to reduce help for the impoverished – including food stamps, now known as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits.

Trump’s budget proposes around $190 million in SNAP cuts over 10 years. “That’s absolutely devastating,” Berg said. For his part, Price pointed out that Tuesday’s Census numbers show that SNAP kept 3.6 million people out of poverty between 2015 and 2016.

Rebecca Vallas, a managing director of the liberal Center for American Progress, said the reports show poverty’s continuing grip. She criticized Republicans for saying they want to help the “forgotten man and woman,” when, if they were serious about cutting poverty, “they’d shelve their quest to repeal the Affordable Care Act and slash nearly every program that help families afford the basics.”

She added, “They seem hell-bent on snatching any gains working families have seen in recent years and funneling them upward so millionaires and billionaires can buy a second yacht.”

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