I’ve got a longer piece out at WaPo, but let me highlight a few things here re the Census Bureau’s release this AM of poverty, income, and health coverage data for 2015.
Though these data are for last year and thus don’t move markets, they’re important as they provide a rare, granular look at the extent to which economic growth and policy changes are reaching the middle class and the poor.
The highlights are:
–Largest one-year drop in poverty since 1968, from 14.8 to 13.5 percent (see WaPo piece for important info on shortcomings of the poverty measure and data from a superior measure);
–Largest one-year increase in median household income, up 5.2 percent from $53,700 in 2014 to $56,500 in 2015, a gain of $2,800. That’s the first real gain since 2007, and the largest gain on record back to 1967, when these data begin.
–The Affordable Care Act continues to reduce the share of the population without health coverage as the Medicaid expansion and state exchanges diffuse across the land. The share without coverage fell last year to 9.1 percent, down from the 2014 uninsured rate of 10.4 percent, meaning 4 million more people got health coverage. As the figure shows, gains for minorities have been particularly large.
As I wrote at the WaPo: “Such a trifecta — lower poverty, higher middle-class incomes and more people covered by health insurance — is rare in this annual report. In fact, since 1988 (the first year for which Census data on health insurance are available), the only other year that brought simultaneous official progress on poverty, median income and health insurance was 1999.”
What this tells you is not that we’re out of the woods or that inequality’s been laid to rest. See, for example, the median male earnings figure in the WaPo piece showing very long-term wage stagnation: a good year doesn’t unwind such a long, damaging trend. But these data do underscore an extremely important truth: when both a strong job market and helpful public policy push in what I think of as a progressive direction, they lift the living standards of middle- and low-income people.