Americans’ income barely inching up despite economic growth

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  • Median U.S. household income stood at about $63,200 last year, statistically unchanged from 2017, according to new Census data.
  • The data suggest that two decades of economic expansion has failed to translate into significant gains for the typical family, as median household income has increased just 2.7% since 1999.
  • The percentage of Americans without health insurance rose last year, reflecting the first annual increase since 2009.

Americans’ household income is barely rising despite ongoing economic growth and low unemployment, a sign the typical family is failing to see significant gains from what has been a record-long expansion.

The median household had income of $63,179 in 2018, not statistically different from the 2017 median, the Census Bureau said. On an inflation-adjusted basis, Americans families are earning just 2.7% more than they did in 1999, when median household income stood at $61,526, or 2007, when the median household income was about $61,000.

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The data illustrate why 4 in 10 Americans sometimes face what economists call “material hardship,” struggling to pay for basic needs such as food and housing. While income has barely inched upwards during the past two decades, costs for essentials such as health care and housing has soared, pinching budgets for many Americans.

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“Most families have just barely made up the ground lost over the past decade,” Elise Gould, a senior economist with the Economic Policy Institute, said in a statement.

One caveat is that the income figures reflect pre-tax income, which means that any benefits from the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, signed into law by President Donald Trump at the end of 2017, wouldn’t be reflected in the data.

More uninsured Americans

The latest Census figures also show that the ranks of Americans without health insurance jumped last year, rising from 25.6 million uninsured in 2017 to 27.5 million in 2018. On a percent basis, the share of uninsured Americans rose from 7.9% to 8.5%, reflecting the first year-over-year increase since 2008-09, the agency said.

High health insurance deductibles are causing financial hardship

The increase in uninsured Americans is striking partly because of the economy’s expansion and increased payrolls. At the same time, the Trump administration has been seeking to weaken the Affordable Care Act, while also approving work requirements for Medicaid, the health care program for low-income workers. Medicaid enrollment fell 0.7% last year, the Census said.

The nation’s poverty rate declined last year to 11.8 percent, 0.5 percentage points lower than in 2017, the Census said. The South was the only region where poverty failed to improve, with the poverty rate in southern states standing at 13.6%, little changed from 2017.

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