Median household income for the nation rose 3.2 percent in 2016 over the prior year, the second consecutive year an increase has occurred, the U.S. Census Bureau reported Tuesday.
The 2016 median was $59,039 in 2016, up from the 2015 median of $57,230 — a development showing continued recovery from the recession that occurred in the late 2000s, one local economist said.
In addition, the nation’s official poverty rate declined to 12.7 percent in 2016, a 0.8 percentage-point drop from the year before. That also was the second consecutive year of a decline in the nation’s poverty rate.
The number of people in poverty nationally in 2016 was 40.6 million, which was 2.5 million fewer than in 2015, the bureau said.
Since 2014, the bureau noted, the national poverty rate has fallen 2.1 percentage points, going from 14.8 percent to 12.7 percent. The bureau noted the 2016 poverty rate was “not significantly higher than the poverty rate of 2007” — the year before the recession started — when it was 12.5 percent.
The percentage of people without health insurance in 2016 was 8.8 percent, or 28.1 million people, down from 9.1 percent, or 29 million people, in 2015.
While the median income was the highest ever recorded in a Census Bureau chart of inflation-adjusted incomes that dates to 1967, bureau officials said long-term historical comparisons should not be drawn because of changes in 2014 to the income questions in the bureau’s Current Population Survey.
“We discourage people from making these comparisons,” Trudi Renwick, the bureau’s assistant division chief for economic characteristics, said during an online news conference.
“We can’t tease out” whether the increase in income stems from changes in the economy or changes in the questions posed, Renwick said. She advised limiting comparisons only to the past two years.
Local experts said the bureau’s report was good news.
“I think it suggests the economy is showing continued improvement,” said John Rizzo, chief economist for the Long Island Association, the region’s largest business group. “And the poverty rate is now at pre-recession levels. That’s some indication of having recovered from the recession.”
David Waddington, the bureau’s division chief of social, economic and housing statistics, said during the news conference that the total number of people working increased by 2.2 million between 2015 and 2016, “suggesting a shift from part-year, part-time work status to full-time, year-round work status.”
For Michael Zweig, emeritus professor of economics at Stony Brook University, the bureau’s report on regional differences in income and poverty stood out, adding context to recent controversies over the legacy of slavery and the Confederacy.
He cited census statistics showing the South with the lowest median income — $53,861 — and highest poverty rate, 14.1 percent among four regions nationally. The Northeast, by comparison, had the highest median at $64,390, and a poverty rate of 10.8 percent.
“Where the legacy of racism is most intense, which is the Confederate South, that’s where income is the lowest and poverty is the highest in the country,” Zweig said. “I just think that’s an important and very interesting thing in these data that corresponds with the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow.”
The bureau also released state-level data only on health insurance coverage. State and county figures on income and poverty, as well as health insurance coverage for areas with populations of 65,000 or more, are to be released Thursday.
New York State’s uninsured level in 2016 was 6.1 percent, or 1.18 million people, down from 7.1 percent, or 1.38 million people in 2015, a statistically significant change, according to the bureau. In 2016, New York’s uninsured rate was 4.6 percentage points lower than in 2013.
Rizzo and Zweig noted the effects of the Affordable Care Act in reducing the uninsured.
State Health Department spokeswoman Erin Silk said the state’s expansion of health care coverage “has resulted in nearly 900,000 New Yorkers gaining coverage since 2013.”
Snapshot of Census data
U.S. median household income
U.S. poverty rate
2016: 12.7 percent
2015: 13.5 percent
People without health insurance
U.S. in 2016: 8.8 percent, or 28.1 million people
U.S. in 2015: 9.1 percent, or 29 million people
New York in 2016: 6.1 percent, or 1.18 million people
New York in 2015: 7.1 percent, or 1.38 million people
Source: U.S. Census Bureau