New government data on household income and poverty for 2019 paint an overall positive picture of the country’s long economic expansion – gains now in the past as the pandemic has inflicted severe damage on millions of Americans.
But another key measure of economic well-being, the share of people without health insurance, rose last year, the US Census Bureau said on Tuesday, a concern that weighs all the more heavily as many families grapple with it. with the health crisis.
The Census Bureau’s annual report, although largely out of date amid the coronavirus-induced recession, provides an important benchmark on the country’s trend in terms of income, poverty, and health coverage over the previous year.
And in what turned out to be the final year in a decade of record economic growth, 2019 produced real fruit before the expansion was halted by the onset of the coronavirus outbreak.
Median U.S. household income – the point at which half earn more and the other half earn less – rose 6.8% from 2018 to $ 68,703, the office said. The inflation-adjusted gain was distributed across race, age and region and was boosted by significant increases in employment and earnings, especially among women.
The nation’s official poverty rate fell to 10.5% from 11.8% in 2018 – the lowest since record keeping began in 1959. Poverty measures for blacks and Latinos have also fallen to new lows, although they remain considerably higher than for Whites and Asians.
Analysts said the improvement in incomes and poverty had been inflated somewhat by the pandemic, which made collecting surveys difficult. The Census Bureau generated the 2019 data by interviewing people from February through April of this year, and it got a lower than normal response rate, especially from those with lower incomes and less education.
Even so, there was no doubt that the last year had turned out to be a financial boon for most American families.
This data is “the end product of a very long and what many economists would say of a good expansion,” said Harry Holzer, professor of public policy at Georgetown University.
“This is how we can do it,” he said, noting that last year’s very low unemployment rate and increasingly tight labor market had produced significant gains for the lows. wages and other disadvantaged workers.
But the same groups that benefited at the end of the expansion – including minorities and the less educated – have been among the hardest hit by the pandemic, as many restaurants, hotels, retail stores and places of entertainment have closed or reduced considerably.
The country’s unemployment rate closed 2019 at 3.5%, the lowest since 1969, and it was where it was in February before the pandemic resulted in lockdowns and business closures that resulted in massive layoffs. The unemployment rate climbed to 14.7% in April, a level not seen since the 1930s. And although it has since fallen to 8.4%, it is still as high as in 2011, when the economy was struggling to recover from the Great Recession.
The Census Bureau has been tracking the effects of the pandemic, and its most recent “Household Pulse Survey” showed that 45% of adults in the United States have experienced loss of employment income for themselves or members. household since March 13, when President Trump declared the COVID -19 pandemic a national emergency. The loss of income is much greater in places like Los Angeles.
âNow, due to the pandemic, we will once again try to regain lost ground for years to come,â said Elise Gould, labor economist at the Economic Policy Institute. âPolicymakers should heed the policies that helped deliver positive results in 2019 and help get us back on the path to full employment as soon as possible. “
The Census Bureau’s poverty figures were slightly better than some experts expected, but the race gap in America remains large.
The poverty rate for blacks, 18.8% in 2019, was more than double that of whites, at 9.1%. And the share of Latinos falling below the poverty line – 15.7 percent – was double the rate of 7.3 percent for Asians. According to the census definition, a family of four with an income of less than $ 26,172 in 2019 was considered poor.
“It would be normal at this point in a long recovery to have the highest numbers on record,” said Arloc Sherman, poverty expert at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. “But this is also the case before the pandemic, there was a lot of inequality and poverty rates still high by the standards of rich industrialized countries.”
Poverty levels have almost certainly increased this year. The federal government’s coronavirus relief program, which provided for a one-time stimulus check and additional unemployment benefits and other aid, has helped many households. But now that most of those aid programs have expired, analysts say the poverty rate will only continue to rise this year.
As for health coverage, the American Community Survey of the Census Bureau found that 9.2% of people in the United States, or 29.6 million, were uninsured in 2019. This is an increase from at 8.9% in 2018.
Despite the gains in jobs and income, the increase marked the third year in which the share of the uninsured has risen, coinciding with the Trump administration’s efforts to weaken the healthcare law known as the name Obamacare, which had extended Medicaid and created health care markets or exchanges where people could get subsidized coverage.
The administration’s withdrawal from Obamacare included support for state policies strengthening Medicaid eligibility requirements and cuts in consumer awareness to inform them of their health care options.
The latest Census Bureau report showed employer-provided coverage increased last year, with an additional 1.2 million people finding full-time, year-round work, but the number of people enrolled in Medicaid has fallen again.
“It is especially costly for all of us to leave people without insurance when we are in the midst of a pandemic,” said Katherine Baicker, health economist at the University of Chicago.
She noted that the uninsured rate is expected to “have increased dramatically this year” and that the effect will be primarily felt by communities of color, as they have borne a disproportionate share of the health and economic crises.
âThese are not hardships felt the same way,â she said. âYou are going to witness an exacerbation of inequalities and access to care.