Earlier today, the Census Bureau released data showing that 2014 was much like 2013 and the years prior: meh for the majority of Americans. Real income for the median household has been level or declining each year since the recession, and in 2014 that number remained 6.5 percent lower than it was in 2007.
Meanwhile, the nation’s gross domestic product is up nearly 9 percent from its high water mark just before the recession, while corporate profits have grown 25 percent. So America is more prosperous than ever. All the money simply isn’t reaching the hands of average Americans.
Today, the news is that there is no news — that, some five years after the recession was officially declared over, the typical American household was still shambling along without a real raise.
The Census Bureau report described a few statistically significant differences between 2013 and 2014.
Most notably, the median income for white non-Hispanic families decreased 1.7 percent. On the other hand, the median income for Hispanic families seems to have increased by as much as five percent, though the Census data is not quite accurate enough to determine if that represents a real difference from last year.
Here’s another way to look at the data: The median income for native-born households decreased by 2.3 percent, while the median income for foreign-born households increased by 4.3 percent. In other words, average immigrant families have been doing slightly better.
Between 2013–2014, there was also was no significant improvement on any of the measures of inequality. The gulf between high earners and low earners remains the widest it’s been since at least 1993, the earliest year for which there is comparable data.
In 2014, a household at the 90th percentile was making nearly 13 times as much money as a family at the 10th percentile. In the 1990s, that ratio hovered between 10 and 11, but started to go up in the 2000s.
These twin trends — rising inequality and wage stagnation — pre-date the recession. The Economic Policy Institute, a liberal think-tank, estimates that median wages have grown only six percent since 1979 after accounting for inflation.
The Census Bureau defines households as groups of people who live together. Census officials suggested Wednesday that the growing number of people sharing a home with non-family members — roommates or cohabitating couples — may have affected the calculation of the median household income. Non-family households tend to earn less income.
Yet, even if those kinds of household were excluded from the data, there would still be no measurable difference in the median income.
The big news today was that the Census Bureau confirmed that more Americans now have health insurance, in large part thanks to the ACA. Equally important to note is that practically nothing else changed. We are still a nation of rather high income inequality. The recovery has not been kind to the American middle class, but neither have been the past two decades. Year after year, we're reminded that these problems are just not getting better.