In 2015, median household income increased for the first time in nearly a decade. On its face, that alone is progress. Coupled with decreases in poverty, it may seem like significant progress. But those numbers may obscure the fact that, in many ways, Americans are still struggling to catch up after the massive losses of the recession and decades of wage stagnation.
On Tuesday, the Census bureau released its most recent data on income and poverty in the U.S. The report showed that median household income climbed to $56,516, a 5.2 percent increase from 2014 and one of the largest one-year increases ever. During the same time period about 3.5 million people moved above the poverty threshold, in part due to job and income gains and (at least based on the supplemental measure) non-cash assistance from things such as housing vouchers or food stamps. While growth of median income is promising news following several years of decline, median incomes remain 1.6 percent lower than they were in 2007 and lower still than the 1999 median-household-income peak of over $57,000 in time-adjusted dollars. For blacks the gulf between 2007 and recent years is even wider, at around 5 percent less than that pre-recession high. The overall poverty rate is 13.5 percent, a shockingly high number compared to what it’s been during other periods of economic growth, when it’s been dropped to closer to 12 percent.