US Poverty Rate Falls, Median Income Rises in 2016

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Median household incomes were higher in 2016 than ever before, surpassing a record set almost two-decades ago in 1999, according to U.S. Census Bureau data released Tuesday. Black families saw their median income climb 5.7% in 2016 to $39,500, while Hispanic households had a 4.3% increase to $47,675.

Households gained the most on the Northeast and West, but the median income was essentially flat in the Midwest and actually declined in the South. However, the Census Bureau changed its methodology in 2014, so the record isn't definitive. The 2016 median income figure remains 1.6% below its 2007 level and 2.4% below where it was in 1999, said Elise Gould, a senior economist at the institute. It is based on interviews with 70,000 households and includes detailed data on incomes and poverty across a range of demographic groups.

The poverty rate in 2016 ticked down by 0.8 percentage point to 12.7 percent. That puts the median household income above where it was in 2007 before the recession hit.

The median US income has now posted solid gains for two straight years.

Sheldon Danziger, head of the Russell Sage Foundation poverty research group, said "expanding the earned income tax credit. and more spending on badly needed infrastructure and early childhood education" would lift employment and productivity. Median income is up 3.2 percent, 9 percent remain without health insurance coverage and the percentage of Americans living below the federal poverty line is holding steady at 12.5 percent.

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The number of those without health care coverage is also down.

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.

The report found that the gender gap in wages narrowed previous year for the first time since 2007. In 2016, a family of four with two adults and two children with a household income of $24,339 or less, two adults under age 65 with $16,543 or less, or someone aged 65 or older with $11,511 in annual income would all meet the poverty threshold, according to Census.

The gap between the earnings of women and men narrowed slightly in 2016, with women now earning just more than 80 cents for every dollar men earn.