Census Data Show Higher Incomes and Lower Poverty in U.S., but not Full Recovery

The U.S. Census Bureau released its annual report on income and poverty on September 13. Income and Poverty in the United States: 2015 shows that median household income increased between 2014 and 2015 by 5.2%, from $53,718 to $56,516. The poverty rate declined from 14.8% to 13.5% during the same period. The poverty rate, however, remains one percentage point higher than it was in 2007, prior to the recession.

The number of people in poverty declined by 3.5 million Americans, to 43.1 million, between 2014 and 2015. The poverty rate remained unchanged (28.5%) for adults aged 18 to 64 with a disability, but declined for most other groups. The poverty rate remains high for adults without a high school diploma (26.3%), blacks (24.1%), Hispanics (21.4%), and children under the age of 18 (19.7%).

Despite its recent increase, median household income in 2015 was still nearly $1,400 (in inflation-adjusted dollars) less than its high in 1999. Over the past 16 years, real income has declined by 2.4% for the median household and by 9.9% for households in the bottom 10% of income. Real household income has increased by 5.7% for households in the top 10% of income.

The Census Bureau also released the 2015 Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM) on September 13. The SPM was developed to address the shortcomings of the official poverty measure, which excludes non-cash government benefits from income. The SPM takes into account benefits like housing subsidies, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and refundable tax credits. The SPM also deducts certain necessary expenses from income, such as taxes, out-of-pocket medical costs, and work-related expenses.

The SPM shows that housing subsidies such as vouchers and public housing lift 2.5 million Americans out of poverty. Housing assistance reduces the poverty rate by 0.6 percentage points for adults between 18 to 64 years of age, 1.0 percentage point for seniors 65 years and older, and 1.2 percentage points for children under 18.

Income and Poverty in the United States: 2015 is available at: http://bit.ly/2coyyJw 

The Supplemental Poverty Measure: 2015 is available at: http://bit.ly/2c6nvBF