On Wednesday, the Census Bureau released its latest data on income and poverty for the country, and despite a falling unemployment rate and a rising GDP—two promising macroeconomic signs—things haven’t improved all that much for American families in the past year.
In 2014, median household income was reported as $53,657—statistically the same as it was in 2013. The same stagnation held when it came to the poverty rate, with about 14.9 percent of Americans, or almost 47 million people, falling below the poverty threshold of about $24,000 for the year.
The news was, of course, worse for minorities and women. The rate of poverty among blacks and Hispanics was well over 20 percent. Women, too, remained more likely to struggle to make ends meet, especially elderly women, whose poverty rate was nearly double that of men in the 75 and older age group. And though more women than ever are participating in the workforce, with 61 percent of women employed full time in 2014, their earnings remained about 79 percent of their male colleagues.
Poverty Rate by Race
None of this is especially revelatory—America’s poverty problem is basically the same. So the biggest news in the data dump was the shifting methodology behind it all. For years, critics have said that the means of measuring poverty in the U.S. is overly simplistic. It includes forms of income such as social security and unemployment, but excludes other things that shape families’ finances, such as food stamps and tax credits. It also ignores that the price of some services, such as health care, have escalated more quickly than inflation has, and that the costs of childcare matters more to families than it did 50 years ago, when fewer women were working.