Data released by the Census Bureau on August 26 suggest that 37.3 million Americans, or 12.5%, had incomes below the poverty level in 2007. The overall poverty rate was unchanged from 2006 but was significantly higher for children (18.0%) and the Hispanic population (21.5%) compared to the same period.
The Current Population Survey (CPS), which is the official source for national poverty and income estimates, also shows that real median income increased for the third consecutive year, growing by 1.3% to $50,233. Additionally, both the percent (15.3%) and number (45.7 million) of uninsured Americans were lower in 2007 than in the previous year, due in large part to the growth of government health insurance and slightly smaller declines in private health insurance coverage. Together with a statistically unchanged overall poverty rate, the data from 2007 are largely positive when compared to the previous year.
Given the economic downturn that began at the end of 2007 and is continuing through 2008, however, last year was likely the peak of the recovery from the post-2001 slowdown. Viewed in these terms, the data indicate that the benefits of this recovery were not as widespread as they have been historically. Median household income is still $400 below the 1999 level in real terms, and for the poorest tenth of the population, it is $700 lower than eight years ago. The overall poverty rate at 12.5% is significantly higher than in 2000, when it was 11.3%.
Alternative income, earnings, and poverty data from the 2007 American Community Survey (ACS) were also released. While not the official source for income and poverty estimates, the ACS is the preferred source for data at smaller levels of geography because its larger sample size permits estimates to be developed for areas with as few as 65,000 persons. Additional ACS demographic and socioeconomic data (e.g., housing estimates, educational attainment, race/ethnicity) will be released on September 23, and three-year estimates for areas as small as 20,000 persons will be available in December.
The report based on CPS data – Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2007 – is available at www.census.gov/prod/2008pubs/p60-235.pdf. Income, Earnings, and Poverty Data form the 2007 American Community Survey is available at www.census.gov/prod/2008pubs/acs-09.pdf, and ACS data can be accessed through the Census Bureau’s American FactFinder at www.census.gov.