WASHINGTON — The nation’s elevated poverty rate and stagnating median household income showed no meaningful changes in 2012, according to a new government report released Tuesday, while the number and percentage of people without health insurance declined slightly from 2011, due mainly to increased enrollment in the Medicare program.
The annual U.S. Census Bureau report shows the economic and social well-being of U.S. residents continued to stabilize in 2012 after several years of tumultuous decline following the Great Recession, which began at the end of 2007 and lasted until midway through 2009. But U.S. families still have a ways to go to recapture even the faltering economic strength of the weakened pre-recession labor market.
Median household income — the amount at which half the country earns less and the other half earns more — was $51,017 in 2012. That’s not statistically different from the 2011 median of $51,100, but it does halt two consecutive annual declines.
For working-age households headed by a person younger than 65, the median income increased by 1 percent, from $56,802 in 2011 to $57,353 last year. But that slight increase hardly makes up for the 9.3 percent decline — a loss of $5,815 — among working-age households between 2007 and 2011. From 2000 to 2012, median income for these non-elderly households had fallen by $7,490 or 11.6 percent, according to the Economic Policy Institute, a liberal economic think tank.
The national poverty rate remained at 15 percent in 2012, according to the census report, with 46.5 million people earning at or below the federal poverty line of $11,170 for an individual and $23,050 for a family of four. It was the second year in a row that the number of people in poverty and the poverty rate showed no meaningful change.
The 2012 poverty rate was 12.5 percent in 2007, the year before the economy tanked.
The number and percent of Americans without health insurance fell from 48.6 million, or 15.7 percent in 2011 to 48 million, or 15.4 percent in 2012, the census report found. The decline was driven mainly by an increase of nearly 2 million people with Medicare coverage, as the first wave of aging baby boomers born between 1946 and 1964 become eligible for the program.
Overall Medicare enrollment jumped from 46.9 million in 2011 to nearly 48.9 million in 2012.
The report comes at a time that each of the three measurements — poverty, health insurance coverage and income — is a hot-button issue across the country.
States are debating whether to cover more uninsured people through Medicaid as part of the Affordable Care Act. At least 10 states and several cities are considering raising their minimum wage rates as research from the University of Chicago shows that a record 8.4 percent of Americans now consider themselves “lower class.”
Meanwhile, House Republicans want to cut food stamp funding by $40 billion, even though a government report earlier this month showed that 17.6 million households had trouble putting enough food on the table last year.