U.S. Household Income Grew 5.2% in 2015, Breaking Pattern of Stagnation

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A housing development in Santa Clarita, north of Los Angeles.

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Monica Almeida/The New York Times

WASHINGTON — Household incomes for American families rose strongly in 2015, breaking a yearslong pattern of income stagnation. The median household’s income in 2015 was $56,516, an increase of 5.2 percent over the previous year — the largest one-year rise since at least 1967, the Census Bureau reported Tuesday.

The income gains mark an important turning point in the recovery from the 2008 recession, showing that recent economic gains are being distributed more broadly.

The economic recovery, however, remains incomplete. The median is still 1.6 percent lower than in 2007, before the recession. It also remains 2.4 percent lower than the peak reached during the boom of the late 1990s. The number of people living in poverty also remains elevated, although it shrank last year by 3.5 million, or roughly 8 percent.

Still, most economists saw the report as remarkably positive. In an exuberant tweet, Jason Furman, chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, called it “unambiguously the best” such census data “ever.” Household incomes in 2015 were higher than when President Obama entered office, and it is likely that the gains are continuing during his final year in office.

For Donald J. Trump, the Republican presidential nominee, the new data weakens a crucial talking point. He has repeatedly cited the stagnation of household income as evidence of a broader malaise.

The Census Bureau also reported that the share of Americans with health insurance continues to rise. It said that only 9.1 percent of Americans had no insurance last year.

Several states, including Pennsylvania, Indiana and Alaska, expanded their Medicaid programs last year, taking advantage of increased federal funding under the Affordable Care Act. Private-sector coverage also increased as companies hired more workers and offered better benefits.

The data released Tuesday was widely anticipated because evidence from other sources suggested it was likely to show a strong increase in household incomes last year. The median income means that half of households made more than that amount, while half made less.

The new report shows that those gains were broad-based. Incomes increased for every age group, with the strongest gains for households with adults in prime working years.

The largest source of those gains is probably increased employment rather than pay raises.

Affluent households saw the largest gains. In percentage terms, lower-income households had larger gains, but measures of the inequality of income distribution remained unchanged, the bureau said.

Incomes also increased, and poverty declined, across all racial groups, with particularly large declines in the poverty rates among African-American and Hispanic households.

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13 September 2016 | 2:31 pm – Source: nytimes.com

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