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Economic expansion in 2019 brought income gains, poverty reduction but more uninsured

By Don Lee, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

WASHINGTON - New government data on household income and poverty for 2019 paints a broadly positive picture of the nation's long economic expansion - gains now in the past as the pandemic has inflicted severe damage on millions of Americans.

But another key measure of economic well-being, the share of people without health insurance, ticked higher last year, the U.S. Census Bureau said Tuesday, a concern that weighs especially heavily as many families struggle with the health crisis.

The Census Bureau's annual report, although largely outdated amid the coronavirus-induced recession, provides an important benchmark on where the nation was trending on incomes, poverty and health coverage in the prior year.

And in what turned out to be the last year of a record decadelong period of economic growth, 2019 produced some real fruits before the expansion was cut short by the onset of the coronavirus outbreak.

The U.S. median household income - the point at which half earn more and half less - rose a robust 6.8% from 2018 to $68,703, the bureau said. The inflation-adjusted gain was spread across race, age and regions and was boosted by significant increases in employment and earnings, particularly on the part of women.

The official poverty rate for the nation dropped to 10.5% from 11.8% in 2018 - the lowest since record-keeping began in 1959. The poverty measures for Blacks and Latinos fell to new lows as well, although they remain considerably higher than for whites and Asians.

 

Analysts said both the income and poverty statistics were somewhat inflated by the pandemic, which made survey collection difficult. The Census Bureau generated the 2019 data by surveying individuals from February to April of this year, and it got a smaller-than-usual response rate, particularly from lower-income and less-educated individuals.

Even so, there was little question that last year proved to be a financial boon for most American families.

These data are "the end product of a very long and what many economists would say a good expansion," said Harry Holzer, public policy professor at Georgetown University.

"This is how well we can do," he said, noting that the very low unemployment rate last year and increasingly tight labor market had produced meaningful gains for low-wage and other disadvantaged workers.

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