Why Increased Wealth, Decreased Poverty Aren’t Reasons to Celebrate Just Yet

black-family-house-1In 2015, the U.S. Census Bureau issued a report on income levels and poverty in America, revealing that the average household income had increased for the first time in almost 10 years. The bureau’s most recent data on household income showed that things were looking up for most Americans. But don’t celebrate just yet.

According to the report released Tuesday, median household income jumped to $56,516 last year, an impressive 5.2 percent increase from 2014’s $53,718 median. It’s also one of the largest one-year increases ever seen. More Americans are enjoying the security of health insurance coverage, too.

Despite these notable gains, significant disparities still remain when it comes to the wage gap, poverty and other forms of income inequality. The analysis reports that although poverty rates are down 1.2 percent from last year, median incomes are still 1.6 percent lower than they were in 2007 and still lower than what they were in 1999.

When examined along racial lines, African-Americans had median household incomes that were 5 percent lower than what they were earning before the crippling recession.

The U.S. poverty rate is still pretty high, too, sitting at 13.5 percent. However, both the rate and number of African-Americans in poverty in 2015 decreased to 24.1 percent and 10.0 million from 26.2 percent and 10.8 million in 2014, according to the report.

Trudi Renwick, chief of the poverty statistics branch at the U.S. Census Bureau, attributed much of the upward mobility shown in the analysis to an increase in the employment of full-time, year-round workers last year. The Atlantic reports that the special group gained about 3.3 workers in 2015, which resulted in a 4.9 percent decrease in the unemployment rate.

Overall, the bureau’s latest report has good news for most Americans. Wealth increased across all age and racial groups, which means poverty levels are slowly going down. But president of the Russell Sage Foundation, Sheldon Danziger, thinks the analysis still misses the bigger point in this so-called “progress.”

“A focus on these very good 2014-15 annual changes misses the big picture,” Danziger said in a statement. “The poor and the median full-time worker and household were better off at the end of Bill Clinton’s Administration than they are today.”

The report’s positive data also failed to show that many poor, Black and Latino citizens still struggle to find jobs – which in turn makes it harder to put food on the table. And yes, the report revealed that median household income increased; but it increased the most for families who were already wealthy. This is a tell-tale sign of the ever-growing earnings gap between white and Black, rich and poor, and men and women.

“The pay gap gets worse for women of color and moms,” said Lisa Maatz of the American Association of University Women.

The report showed the female-to-male earnings ratio increased just one cent from 0.79 to 0.80 last year. Black and Latino women earn even less than that.

While the latest Census report may be a glimmer of hope that the country is finally recovering from economic crisis, not everyone is feeling the effects of increased wealth just yet.


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