U.S. poverty rate and incomes remained stagnant in 2014, report says

Despite steady job growth and a sizeable drop in the unemployment rate, the nation's poverty rate showed no improvement last year, and the typical American household, once again, saw no real gain in income.

The Census Bureau's annual figures on income and poverty, released Wednesday, came as a disappointing surprise to experts, who had expected a second straight year of decline in America's poor with the improving economy. Instead, the bureau said, the share of people in the U.S. living in poverty was 14.8% last year, statistically unchanged from 2013 and well above the 12.3% figure in 2006, the year before the Great Recession began in late 2007.

A related but separate report from the Census Bureau offered more encouraging findings on another indicator of economic well-being: the health-insurance status of Americans.

The share of people in the U.S. without medical coverage fell sharply last year to 10.4%, from 13.3% in 2013, thanks to the first full-year impact of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

The drop in the uninsured was expected as states expanded Medicaid and millions of Americans signed up for private insurance through new marketplaces created by the Affordable Care Act. Some of the biggest decrease came from part-time workers who had obtained coverage.

For last year, the poverty rate represented 46.7 million people -- a record high. Those are the number living below the official poverty line, which in 2014 was less than $24,008 for a household of two adults and two children.

The Census Bureau's supplemental measure of poverty, which includes noncash income such as food stamps and income tax credits, showed a 0.5 percentage decline in the poverty rate between 2013 and 2014.

U.S. households made no headway in the long-running problem of stagnant incomes, despite an increase in the number of year-round full-time workers.

The median income -- the midpoint in which half the households make more and half less -- was $53,700 last year. That was down from $54,462 in 2013, although the change was not statistically significant. 

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Since peaking at an inflation-adjusted level of $57,843 in 1999, the median household income has generally trended down, falling to a nearly two-decade low of $52,605 in 2012.

Edward J. Welniak Jr., the Census Bureau's chief statistician on incomes, said that behind the stagnant incomes last year was a large increase in people living in non-family households. Those households, consisting of people living alone, with roommates or in other nontraditional family arrangements, tend to have lower incomes, thus pulling down the overall median income.

So far this year, there's been little indication of an acceleration in wages for the average worker, although economists expect employers to bid up pay as they find it harder to fill openings with the lower unemployment rate.

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