(CN) – Americans may be earning slightly more, but U.S Census Bureau data released Wednesday indicate many still struggle to afford basic necessities.
The median U.S. household income in 2017 rose 1.8 percent to $61,372, according to the bureau’s data – the third straight year of increases. In 2014, the median household income was $54,398.
But nearly 40 million people – 12.3 percent of the population – live in poverty, though that figure is down from 15.1 percent in 2010. Poverty rates are highest among women (13.6 percent), black (21.2 percent), and Hispanic (18.3 percent) people, and those without high school diplomas (24.3 percent).
As more jobs require college degrees, the data show 3.6 million people with bachelor’s degrees were poor in 2017 – up from 3.3 million in 2016 – highlighting the precarious position of college-educated U.S residents.
Regarding the gender wage gap, the median income for women who worked year-round and full time is $41,977, while men earn $52,146.
The number of poor people aged 18 to 64 with a disability in 2017 was 3.8 million, down from 4.1 million in 2016.
Asian households had the highest median income in 2017 at $81,331, while non-Hispanic white households earned $68,145.
The latest figures are a critical health check on the nation’s economy and gauge the impacts of policies implemented in the final year of President Barack Obama’s administration.
But researchers with the Center for American Progress said in a statement this past week that the 2017 data won’t factor in the effects of recent economic policy changes, including the Trump administration’s sweeping tax bill passed in late 2017 that was promoted by Republicans as a business-friendly boost to the economy that would benefit all U.S residents.
“In the Trump economy, corporate profits are soaring in the aftermath of the recent tax law,” the center statement said. “While working families are being squeezed by stagnant wages and rising health care costs.”
The center called income gains for the average family in 2017 “modest” and said the reality is most people find themselves “squeezed” between stagnant or declining wages and the rising costs of basic necessities such as medical expenses, child care, and housing. The group suggested the Trump administration increase access to Medicare, invest in affordable housing construction, subsidize child care and expand the child tax credit for families with young children.
According to a Center on Budget statement Wednesday, rent subsidy programs lifted 2.9 million people out of poverty, while food stamps did the same for 3.4 million people. The earned income tax credit and the low-income portion of the child tax credit combined to lift 8.3 million people out of poverty, including 4.5 million children, the statement said.
But the Trump administration’s 2019 budget calls for cutting food stamps by nearly 30 percent and eliminating the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program.
In a report Wednesday, the California Budget & Policy Center said state lawmakers should bolster public aid programs and increase tax credits for working families in the state with the nation’s highest poverty rate.
Despite a robust economy – the fifth largest in the world – about 7.5 million Californians, or nearly 1 in 5, do not have enough resources to cover the costs of basic necessities.
Statewide, more than half of renter households pay more than 30 percent of their incomes for housing, the report said.
“While median household rents increased by 13.2 percent from 2006 to 2016, median annual earnings for full-time workers (those working at least 35 hours per week) grew by only 4.1 percent during that period,” the report said.
The report used the supplemental poverty measure, which factors in noncash resources like food or housing assistance. The “official” measure only counts cash income such as work earnings and Social Security payments.
Under the supplemental measure, the nation’s poverty rate rises to 14.1 percent.
On health care coverage, Census data show insurance rates mostly flatlined between 2016 and 2017. Some 28 million people did not have health insurance in 2017, according to a March 2018 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report.
Just over 9 percent of the population went without health insurance in 2015, according to the Census Bureau. And in 2010, before the Affordable Care Act went into effect, 16.3 percent of the population had no health insurance.