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Census survey: Median household income was up nearly 7% in 2019

John Rizzo is a Stony Brook University professor

John Rizzo is a Stony Brook University professor and the chief economist for the Long Island Association, the region's largest business group. Credit: Courtesy John Rizzo

The nation's median household income increased nearly 7% between 2018 and 2019, to more than $68,700 — among the highest increases on record — while the nation's poverty rate decreased a little more than 1 percentage point during the period, the U.S. Census Bureau reported Tuesday.

Bureau officials noted the 2019 data doesn't reflect the impact of COVID-19, which took serious hold in New York in March, or the recession that hit the country in February.

"These statistics are largely of historical interest right now because the situation is so different" because of the coronavirus pandemic, said John Rizzo, a Stony Brook University professor and the chief economist for the Long Island Association, the region's largest business group.

David Waddington, chief of the census bureau's Social, Economic and Housing Statistics Division, noted the survey from which the economic data comes was affected by the "extraordinary challenges of the pandemic," producing lower-than-usual response rates. He said in-person interviews were halted to protect census workers and respondents. The bureau was in the process of analyzing how the lower response rate affected the statistics.

The bureau administers its survey on poverty, income and health insurance "each year between February and April by telephone and in-person interviews, with the majority of data collected in March," the bureau said in a report.

The nation's median household income was $68,703 in 2019, up 6.8% from the 2018 median of $64,324, according to the survey. Asked if this was the largest one-year increase on record, Trudi Renwick, assistant division chief for Social, Economic and Housing Statistics, said it wasn't, but was "certainly among the highest we have seen on record."

A statement from the bureau about the median income said that, given the challenges, "We are concerned about bias in the 2019 estimate." The bureau added, "After adjusting for nonresponse bias, we estimate that real median household income in 2019 was 2.8 percent lower than the survey estimate, at $66,790."

The bureau said the nation's poverty rate was 10.5%, 1.3 percentage points lower than the 2018 rate of 11.8%. The bureau said it was the fifth consecutive year of a decline in the poverty rate. The bureau also noted concern about the nonresponse rate's impact on the poverty statistic. "We estimate a poverty rate of 11.1 percent in 2019, compared to the official estimate of 10.5 percent," it said.

Rizzo said the survey "tells us two things: One thing it tells us is that the economy was strong before COVID. And the second thing is it was improving … Of course, things have changed a lot.

"The only positive, I guess, is that the economy was quite strong for Long Island going into COVID-19," he added. "So that will probably be helpful as we gradually reopen the economy and put this scourge behind us. It would be worse if we had COVID with an underlying weak economy. But it was strong. That suggests to me a healthier recovery."

The survey also found that 92% of the nation's population had health insurance, while 8%, or 26.1 million, didn't. The survey found health insurance coverage increased between 2018 and 2019, largely driven by employment-based health insurance, which it said 68% of the population had.

According to another bureau survey, The American Community Survey, 5.2% of residents in New York State did not have health insurance in 2019, down from 5.4% in 2018. County data on health insurance, poverty and income will be released Thursday.

Janine Logan, spokeswoman for the Nassau-Suffolk Health Council, which represents not-for-profit and public hospitals on Long Island, said: "The positive trends in reducing poverty and increasing health insurance coverage we have gained are in jeopardy because of the pandemic crisis in which we find ourselves."

Logan added, "Unemployment remains historically high, and this affects health insurance coverage because of the tie to employer-provided health insurance. In this area, too, it appears we were making progress, but the loss of jobs translates into the loss of health insurance."

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