Census Shows Poverty Down, Median Income Up, Uninsured Rate Flat
Analysts weighed in on U.S.
Census Bureau data on poverty and health insurance released Wednesday,
observing a steady downward trend in the official poverty measure, an upward
trend in median income and a rate of uninsured individuals statistically the
same as last year.
According to the bureau, the
nation’s official poverty rate in 2017 was 12.3 percent, with 39.7 million
people in poverty, compared to 12.7 percent in 2016 -- the third consecutive
annual decline in poverty.
Median household income in 2017
was $61,372, an increase in real terms of 1.8 percent from the 2016 median
income of $60,309, the third consecutive
annual increase in median household income.
The percentage of people without
health insurance coverage for the entire 2017 calendar year was 8.8 percent, or
28.5 million individuals, compared to 8.8 percent in 2016, or 28.1 million
Robert Greenstein and Jared
Bernstein, of the Washington-based Center on Budget and Policy Priorities
(CBPP), said the increases in the official poverty rate and median household
income are good, but could be better, observing that the rate of increase has
slowed from previous years.
Though the United States’ median
income was the highest ever recorded in 2017, Bernstein said, “That’s not as
unique of an achievement as it sounds.” Because of the effect of inflation, he
said, similar such records have been posted several times in the past 20 years.
“In real terms, median income and
poverty look about where they were at the pre-recession peak in 2007,”
In addition, income inequality
continues to grow, CBPP said. While the average American income has grown by
1.6 percent, the incomes of the top five percent of American earners has grown
by about twice as much – three percent – according to the center. Bernstein
said income inequality has been exacerbated by recent federal tax cuts, some of
which cut taxes for large corporations and high-income earners. So while growth
is reaching middle- and low-income earners, that growth is being limited by the
high growth for high-income earners, he said.
“The macro economy is pushing in
a positive direction, but income inequality is limiting that growth,” Bernstein
The analysts also called the
“stalled uninsured rate” a troubling result of “Trump administration actions to
place obstacles in the way of successful Affordable Care Act (ACA)
implementation,” such as decreasing consumer outreach funding and shortening
the enrollment window.
Census data showed a sharp
decline in the number of uninsured individuals following initial passage of the
ACA, and a slower decline in subsequent years. For example, in 2015 the
percentage of individuals without any health insurance for the entire year was
9.1 percent, which dropped only 0.3 percentage points to 8.8 percent in 2016.
Greenstein said that even though the declining number of uninsured individuals
began to slow down in the final years of the Obama administration, he would
have expected some decrease in the uninsured rate to continue if Obama-era
policies had continued, rather than the flat rate that was observed from 2016
Greenstein added that the Trump
administration’s decision to allow more short-term health insurance plans could
have a cascading effect that increases the number of uninsured individuals in
the future. He said that allowing short-term health insurance will move young,
healthy people off the exchange, making premiums go up on the exchange, thus
pricing middle-income earners with unsubsidized insurance plans out of the
exchange and increasing the number of uninsured individuals.
Medicaid expansion states -- of
which Ohio is one -- showed far lower rates of uninsured individuals than
non-expansion states, with expansion states posting an average 6.6 percent
uninsured rate, compared to the 12.2 percent average uninsured rate for
non-expansion states. Bernstein said gaps in coverage between expansion and
non-expansion states have been growing for the past four years.
Most uninsured individuals (84.6
percent) were working age adults, and of that group, one-in-four were between
the ages of 26 and 34, while one-in-five were between the ages of 34 and 44.
People in southern states, individuals in the service industry and
less-educated individuals were the most likely to be uninsured.
Ohio posted a 6.0 percent
uninsured rate in 2017, up slightly from 5.6 percent in 2016.
CBPP also drew attention to the
supplemental poverty measure (SPM), an alternative measure of poverty that
incorporates various forms of government assistance into an individual’s
income. If an individual’s income is below the SPM poverty line before the
incorporation of government assistance, but over the poverty line after the
incorporation of government assistance, that individual is considered “lifted
out of poverty” by that program.
According to an analysis by CPBB
Senior Fellow and Director Arloc Sherman, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance
Program (SNAP) lifted 3.4 million people above the SPM poverty line ($27,005
for a typical two-adult, two-child renter family); the Earned Income Tax Credit
(EITC) and the low-income portion of the Child Tax Credit together lifted 8.3
million people out of poverty; Social Security lifted 27.0 million people out
of poverty, including 17.7 million seniors; Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
lifted 3.2 million people out of poverty; rent subsidies lifted 2.9 million
people out of poverty; and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and
state General Assistance programs lifted 544,000 people out of poverty.
As such, Sherman said the data
spoke to the effectiveness of those programs, and he decried planned actions by
the Trump administration and Congress to cut funding to some of those programs
in the 2019 budget.
Story originally published in The Hannah Report on September 13, 2018. Copyright 2018 Hannah News Service, Inc.