The Econ-versation: Census Bureau update

Silvia Buonocore, Senior Writer

A Census Bureau update released on Sept. 10 shed light on various economic measures from 2018, including income growth, inequality, poverty rates and the share of people with health insurance.

Following three years of growth, American incomes in 2018 remained relatively steady. The 2018 median household income – the level at which half of households are below and half of households are above – of $63,179 only increased by 0.9 percent since 2017. This change is not considered statistically significant after accounting for inflation – the general increase in prices and decrease in purchasing power of money. However, the poorest households in America had the largest increases in income.

The 2018 poverty rate of 11.8 percent was half a percentage point lower than the previous year, making it the lowest poverty rate since 2001. Although they are still high, the poverty rates are the lowest ever recorded for specific groups such as households headed by females and African Americans.

Health insurance coverage, however, is not as positive. The percentage of Americans without health insurance rose from 7.9 percent in 2017 to 8.5 percent in 2018. This is the first time that there has been a decrease in the percentage of Americans insured since 2009. The decline could be attributed to a drop in the number of Americans paying for their own health care, and thus exiting the health insurance market. However, the Census Bureau identifies a drop in Medicaid coverage – low-cost health insurance for eligible low-income people, families and children, disabled individuals and the elderly – as a more significant driving force. Since multiple states began asking for more proof of Medicaid eligibility last year, the number of people with Medicaid decreased by over 1.6 million, which likely explains the overall decline in Americans without health insurance.

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