U.S. poverty declines in 2013, median income stagnant, Census Bureau finds

There are more full-time workers says the Census. (Carl Juste/Miami Herald/MCT)
There are more full-time workers says the Census. (Carl Juste/Miami Herald/MCT) MCT

An improved economy with more full-time workers drove a decline in the national poverty rate in 2013 _ the first in seven years _ and the first decline in the nation’s child poverty rate in 13 years, according to U.S. Census Bureau figures released Tuesday.

But the nation’s median household income _ the amount at which half the nation earns more and the other half earns less _ was $51,939 in 2013, virtually unchanged from $51,759 in 2012.

It marked the third straight year that stagnant earnings showed no statistically significant change. And full-time working women, on average, earned only 78 cents for every $1 a man earned in 2013 _ up just 1 cent from 2012.

The findings are some of the highlights of two annual census reports that track trends in the nation’s income, poverty and health insurance coverage. The annual reports are the leading barometers of Americans’ financial and social well-being.

The number of men and women working full time, year round increased by 1.8 million and by 1 million, respectively, from 2012 to 2013, as America’s recession-battered workforce continued to find jobs and move from part-time to full-time work status.

Since 2010, the number of full-time workers has increased by 6.4 million, to nearly 106 million people, the Census Bureau found.

The labor market’s slow but steady recovery led to a rise in full-time employment among families with children, which helped lower the child poverty rate from 21.8 percent in 2012 to 19.9 percent in 2013 _ the first decline since 2000.

The number of impoverished children under age 18 also fell, from 16.1 million to 14.7 million, over the same period.

“The poverty rate has finally started to decline,” said the Rev. David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World, a national anti-hunger organization. “As we continue to climb out of the deep hole the recession put us in, the government has to focus on greatly reducing unemployment and income inequality.”

The poverty rate also declined for the first time since 2006, from 15 percent in 2012 to 14.5 percent last year. But the poverty rate remains stubbornly high. It was 12.5 percent in 2007, the year before the economy tanked.

And while the number of impoverished Americans fell from 46.5 million in 2012 to 45.3 million last year, the decline was not statistically significant mainly because of population growth.

Hispanics were the only group to see a significant decline in their poverty rate, falling from 25.6 percent in 2012 to 23.5 percent in 2013. Blacks had the nation’s highest poverty rate at 27.2 percent in 2013, followed by 10.5 percent for Asians and 9.6 percent for non-Hispanic whites.

While the economic progress from the worst recession in a generation is undeniable, Jason Furman and Betsey Stevenson of the White House Council of Economic Advisers said in a statement that Americans haven’t yet regained their pre-recession economic stability.

“There is reason to believe that this progress has continued into 2014,” Furman and Stevenson wrote. “Nevertheless, the typical family has still not seen its income recover from the deep recession which came on top of a decade in which incomes stagnated for the middle class, itself part of a longer-term trend of increasing income inequality.”

The growing concentration of total income at the upper end of the economic ladder showed no appreciable change from 2012 to 2013. But since 1993, the first year that comparable measurement was available, income inequality has increased 5 percent, the government reports.

In fact, the top 5 percent of households earned more than 22 percent of total U.S. income in 2012 and 2013, while the top 20 percent earned more than half in both years. The lowest 40 percent earned less than 12 percent in 2012 and 2013.

“The generation-long trend towards ever-greater income inequality seems to be firmly underway again, after only the briefest interruption caused by the Great Recession,” read a blog by economist Josh Bivens of the Economic Policy Institute, a liberal economic research center.

The median income of men who worked full time was $50,033 in 2013, compared with $39,157 for women, continuing a historical gender gap in earnings.

“That means that millions of women and their families continue to slide backwards year after year. We can and must do better than this. It’s time to close the wage gap now,” said a statement by Fatima Goss Graves, vice president for education and employment at the National Women’s Law Center.

A separate report on health insurance found that 86.6 percent had health insurance at some point in 2013. The share of Americans without health insurance for the entire year was 13.4 percent, or 42 million people in 2013. Comparisons with 2012 were not available because of a change in the way the data is tabulated.

The impact of the Affordable Care Act does not affect the 2013 estimates and will not be reflected until 2014 estimates are tabulated next year.

Most Americans _ 54 percent _ had job-based health coverage in 2013, while 11 percent had coverage through the individual marketplace, which was overhauled by the health law. Government coverage through Medicare, Medicaid and other government programs covered 34.3 percent of Americans.