Median income falls in the 2000s, poverty rate up

Recently released figures from the Census Bureau show troubling news with two oft-cited measures of income:

The bureau’s annual snapshot of American living standards also found that the fraction of Americans living in poverty rose sharply to 14.3% from 13.2% in 2008—the highest since 1994. Some 43.6 million Americans were living below the official poverty threshold, but the measure doesn’t fully capture the panoply of government antipoverty measures.

The inflation-adjusted income of the median household—smack in the middle of the populace—fell 4.8% between 2000 and 2009, even worse than the 1970s, when median income rose 1.9% despite high unemployment and inflation. Between 2007 and 2009, incomes fell 4.2%.

While the poverty figures have drawn a lot of media attention, they are now at 1994 levels (also around the time of a recession). It is not good news that the poverty rate is up but this isn’t catastrophic compared to recent historical figures.

Perhaps more troubling is the decrease in the median income over the course of an entire decade. This suggests that the economic problems aren’t just limited to those at the bottom of the economic ladder; it is affecting many more Americans who saw no real income growth over a ten year stretch. Figures like these are also used by some as evidence of the growing income gap in America.

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