Median Income and Poverty Rate Hold Steady, Census Bureau Finds

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from The New York Times,

Last year, for the first time in half a decade, median household income did not fall and poverty did not rise, the Census Bureau said Tuesday in the release of its major annual report on poverty, insurance and earnings.

The report depicts an economy that has failed to improve the lot of most households and left about 46.5 million Americans living in poverty in 2012.

“The poverty and income numbers are a metaphor for the entire economy,” said Ron Haskins of the Brookings Institution. “Everything’s on hold, but at a bad level.” He added, “Don’t expect things to change until the American economy begins to generate more jobs.”

Median household income, adjusted for inflation, halted its fall at $51,017, about where it was the previous year. That is down about 9 percent from an inflation-adjusted peak of $56,080 in 1999, though the economy has grown by about 28 percent since then. Income is also down about 8.3 percent since 2007, when the economy started to contract.

As the economy has expanded since the recession ended in 2009, income gains have accrued almost entirely to the top earners, the Census Bureau found. The census data shows that the top 5 percent of earners — households making more than about $191,000 a year — have recovered most of their losses and took in about as much in 2012 as they did before the recession hit. But those in the bottom 80 percent of the income distribution are, on average, making considerably less.

In one glimmer of improvement, the number of men working full time year-round with earnings increased by one million between 2011 and 2012, to a total of 59 million. Still, the labor market continues to look weak for less-educated and lower-income men, as the labor force participation rate of men has fallen steadily for the past 60 years.

The poverty rate held steady at about 15 percent, about 2.5 percentage points higher than before the unusually long and deep economic downturn began.

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