“We still have a very high poverty rate, because Obama has been unable to generate jobs,” Rector said. “We have 11 million more adults who are completely without jobs than at the beginning of the recession, and about 8 million fewer adults with full-time work. Those numbers will explain almost all the increase in poverty.”
The census report noted a small uptick in people holding full-time jobs but said it appeared many had shifted from part-time work. That was enough to keep the poverty rate from increasing, said David Johnson, the census official in charge of the income statistics.
Academics debate the factors driving income inequality, but some of them have more to do with demographic changes than corporate salaries. The country has many more single-parent families and people living alone, for example, driving down median household incomes.
In the height of the recession, the decades-long growth in income inequality essentially stalled as “everybody took a hit,” said Jane Waldfogel, a professor at Columbia University’s School of Social Work who studies poverty and inequality.
“What’s disconcerting is that inequality is going up post-recession, and it’s happening because the top is starting to pull away again,” she said.
The increase in income inequality reflects the recovery’s unevenness, said Richard Burkhauser, an economist at Cornell University.
“It rose not so much because the top 10 percent saw a rise in income, but because virtually everyone below the 90th percentile is still falling,” he said.
Others saw a silver lining and expressed measured relief that the poverty rate hadn’t worsened.
“It looks as though we’ve sort of hit bottom,” said Peter Edelman of Georgetown University, the author of “So Rich, So Poor: Why It’s So Hard to End Poverty in America.”
“It’s still very, very troubling, it’s a very serious picture. We’ve added 15 million people in poverty since the turn of the century. The fact it isn’t worse is at best the sound of one hand clapping.”
Annie Gowen contributed to this report.