PI Original Ellyn Fortino Wednesday September 16th, 2015, 2:37pm

Census Bureau: Uninsured Rate Plunges, Poverty And Income Numbers Stagnant

Progress Illinois breaks down new Census Bureau figures, which showed a significant drop in the uninsured rate last year but disappointing results on poverty and income.

The percentage of Americans without health insurance declined sharply last year thanks largely to the Affordable Care Act, while median household income and the nation's poverty rate remained effectively the same over that period, according to new figures from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Thirty-three million Americans, or 10.4 percent of the population, were uninsured during the full 2014 calendar year, down from 41.8 million, or 13.3 percent, in 2013. That's the largest single-year decline on record.

A closer look at the numbers shows the uninsured rate was 2.4 percentage points higher for men than women, at 12.9 percent and 10.5 percent, respectively.

"Today's data -- which show that 90 percent of women and girls have health insurance -- is a testament to the value of the Affordable Care Act for women and their families," said Karen Davenport, director of health policy at the National Women's Law Center. "The remarkable decline in the proportion of women who lack health insurance extends to women of all races. With affordable health insurance, women have a far better chance of protecting themselves and their families, and today's numbers show the ACA to be a resounding success."

Experts cheered the health coverage figures, but expressed disappointment over the new income and poverty numbers.

Elise Gould, senior economist at the Economic Policy Institute, spoke to the lackluster income stats.

"Apart from the very good news on health insurance, we saw stagnant earnings and incomes across the board. The economy is simply not working for the vast majority of Americans," Gould said. "Unfortunately, what we know about the labor market so far this year doesn't provide an optimistic picture of what things will look like next year at this time. Job growth slowed in 2015 and wage growth hasn't improved. Wage growth ... is essential for income growth, and we need to use all the policy levers at our disposal to improve wages."

Poverty Stays High

The official poverty rate didn't budge either.

There were 46.7 million Americans living in poverty last year, which translates into an official poverty rate of 14.8 percent. That's not a significant change from the 15 percent level in 2013, but it is 2.3 percentage points higher than the 2007 pre-recession level.

Broken down by race, the official 2014 poverty rate was 10.1 percent for non-Hispanic whites, 12 percent for Asians, 23.6 percent for Hispanics and 26.2 for blacks. The rates were not statistically different from 2013.

The child poverty rate was about 21 percent, similar to 2013. In all, 15.5 million children were living in poverty last year.

Child poverty rates were highest among blacks and Hispanics, at 37.1 percent and 31.9 percent, respectively. 

"These groups are about three times more likely to be in poverty than white children," explained Valerie Wilson with the Economic Policy Institute. "The poverty rate for African-American children increased 3.4 percentage points between 2013 and 2014 -- the only group for whom there was an increase."

A more comprehensive assessment of poverty using the supplemental poverty measure (SPM) was also released on Wednesday. The supplemental poverty rate remained about the same at 15.3 percent, which means 48.4 million people were classified as poor in 2014.

The poverty picture would have been bleaker without the social safety net, the data show.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps, kept 4.7 million people out of poverty last year, under the SPM measure. And about 10 million people were boosted out of poverty thanks to the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and Child Tax Credit, among other examples.

Stagnant Household Income 

Median household income did not change significantly last year and was 6.5 percent, or $3,700, lower than before the recession in 2007.

In 2014, median household income was $53,657, down from $54,462 in 2013.

Little progress was made last year in closing racial income gaps.

Black households had 59 cents for every dollar of white median household income in 2014, while the Hispanic-white income gap was 71 cents -- not much of a change from 2013.

Earnings were essentially unchanged last year too.

For men, median earnings ticked down by .9 percent from $50,834 to $50,383. Women saw their median earnings increase slightly from $39,427 to $39,621.

The gender wage gap shrank by a penny last year from 78 cents to 79 cents. That means 2014 earnings for full-time working women were still nearly $10,800 less than what men took home that year.

"Once again, today's wage gap data doesn't bring good news. Women on average make only 79 cents for every dollar a man makes," said Fatima Goss Graves with the National Women's Law Center. "That means that millions of women and their families continue to slide backwards year after year. We can and must do better than this. It's time to close the wage gap now."

The income and poverty numbers held steady in 2014, despite there being 2.8 million more Americans who were working full-time, year-round.

"The lack of improvement in poverty and income in recent years reflects, in part, limits in the labor market's recovery as well as the marked rise in income inequality over the past decade and a half, though inequality didn't rise between 2013 and 2014," explained Robert Greenstein, president of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP). "Median wages remained largely flat in 2014, while large numbers of people who sought full-time work could only find part-time work and many others didn't seek work actively because they thought they had little chance of finding it."

"The Federal Reserve," Greenstein added, "should take the new Census data into account in deciding this week whether to raise interest rates, which would slow the economic recovery and job creation."

The statistics released Wednesday came from the following reports: Income and Poverty in the United States: 2014Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2014 and the Supplemental Poverty Measure: 2014.

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