Poverty & Safety Net

Last year, income increased and poverty decreased, but what about 2020?

September 21, 2020
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On September 15, the U.S. Census Bureau released its 2019 reports on income, poverty and health insurance coverage in the nation. Following are some highlights of these reports, which were compiled from the Census’ Current Population Survey Annual Social and Economic Supplements (CPS ASEC). The health insurance report also draws from the Census’ American Community Survey (ACS).

Household Income

  • Real (inflation-adjusted) median income for all households in the U.S. rose significantly from $64,324 in 2018 to $68,703 in 2019, a 6.8 percent increase. (The median income is the “middle value,” with half of households earning above the median and half earning below.)
  • Family households had a higher median in 2019 ($88,149), compared to non-family households ($41,232), many of whom live alone. Among family households:
  • Married couples had a median of $102,308
  • Single female-headed families, $48,098
  • Single male-headed families, $69,204
  • All racial/ethnic groups experienced an increase in household income in 2019, although racial disparities persisted:
  • Non-Hispanic white households had a median of $76,057, compared to
  • Blacks, $45,438
  • Hispanic/Latinos, $56,113
  • Asians, $72,204
  • Households headed by a senior age 65 or older had a lower median income ($47,357) compared to households headed by someone under age 65 ($77,873).

Earned income

  • Real median earned income (from wages, salaries and/or self-employment) rose from $40,976 in 2018 to $41,537 in 2019, a 1.4 percent increase. For those working full-time and year-round, median earnings rose 0.8 percent, from $51,570 to $52,000.
  • There was still a significant gender gap in earnings in 2019. Female full-time, year-round workers earned a median of $47,299, just 82.3 percent of the median $57,456 earned by their male counterparts.

Poverty definition

  • The federal poverty level (FPL) is determined by a family’s size and money income, and is adjusted for inflation annually. For 2019, the FPL was:
  • $13,300 for a single person under age 65
  • $12,261 for a single person age 65 or older
  • $20,598 for a single parent with two children
  • $25,926 for a two-parent family with two children

Number and percent below poverty

  • Nationally in 2019, 34 million Americans lived below the FPL, meaning a poverty rate of 10.5 percent. This represents a decline of 4 million from 2018, when the poverty rate was 11.8 percent.
  • Poverty rates differed by race and ethnicity. The rates for Blacks and Hispanics were more than double the rate for non-Hispanic whites:
  • 7.3 percent for Non-Hispanic whites
  • 18.8 percent for Blacks
  • 15.7 percent for Hispanics
  • 7.3 percent for Asians
  • Children had a higher poverty rate than working-age adults or seniors:
  • 10.5 million children under age 18 (14.4 percent) were poor
  • 15.7 million adults ages 18 to 64 (9.4 percent)
  • 4.9 million seniors age 65 or older (8.9 percent)
  • There was an inverse relationship between educational attainment and poverty. For adults ages 25 or older:
  • 23.7 percent of those with no high school diploma were poor
  • 11.5 percent of those with only a high school diploma
  • 7.8 percent of those with some college, but no degree
  • 3.9 percent of those with a bachelor’s degree or higher

Families below poverty

  • 6 million families, or 7.8 percent of all families were below poverty in 2019, representing a decline of 1 million families from 2018. Poverty rates differed by type of family:
  • 4.0 percent of married-couple families
  • 22.2 percent of single female-headed families
  • 11.5 percent of single male-headed families

Insured, uninsured and type of health insurance

  • In 2019, 26.1 million Americans (8.0 percent) lacked health insurance coverage for the entire year. Of the 298.4 million with coverage for all or part of the year, 220.8 million (68.0 percent) had private coverage, and 110.7 million (34.1 percent) had public coverage. (Some people may have more than one type of coverage.)
  • Private coverage includes:
  • Employment based (183.0 million covered; 56.4 percent)
  • Directly purchased (33.2 million; 10.2 percent); including 9.7 million or 3.0 percent from the marketplace)
  • TRICARE (military) (8.5 million; 2.6 percent)
  • Public coverage includes:
  • Medicare (58.8 million; 18.1 percent)
  • Medicaid (55.9 million; 17.2 percent)
  • Veterans Affairs (VA) or Civilian Health and Medical Program of the Department of Veterans Affairs (CHAMPVA) (3.2 million; 1.0 percent)
  • Comparisons in coverage rates between 2018 and 2019 yield mixed results in the two data sources used. The CPS ASEC found that overall coverage increased due to employer-based coverage. On the other hand, the ACS found that increases in employer coverage were offset by decreases in direct-purchase, Medicaid, and VA coverage. Both surveys found that Medicare increased, and Medicaid decreased. Direct-purchase coverage also decreased in both surveys.

Characteristics of uninsured populations

  • Due to their eligibility for specific public coverage, children under age 19 and seniors age 65 and older were less likely to be uninsured than working-age adults between the ages of 19 and 64 years old.
  • 5.2 percent of children under 19 were uninsured in 2019
  • 11.1 percent of adults 19 to 64
  • 1.1 percent of seniors 65 and over
  • Of racial/ethnic groups:
  • 5.2 percent of whites were uninsured
  • 9.6 percent of Blacks
  • 6.2 percent of Asians
  • 16.7 percent of Hispanics
  • The uninsured rate also declined with increasing income relative to the poverty level:
  • 15.9 percent among those with less than 100% of the FPL
  • 11.3 percent of those 100%-399% of the FPL
  • 3.0 percent of those 400% or more of the FPL
  • Since many adults obtain coverage through their spouses, the uninsured rate among the unmarried (15.0 percent) was twice the rate among the married (7.6 percent).

States with Medicaid Expansion vs. non-expansion states

  • The Affordable Care Act (ACA) offered states the option to expand Medicaid coverage to adults who were previously ineligible, based on a higher income-to-poverty ratio. As of January 2019, 32 states and the District of Columbia had opted for expansion. The uninsured rate varied between these states and the 18 others that had declined expansion: 9.8 percent for expansion states and 18.4 percent for non-expansion states, almost twice the rate for expansion states.

Uninsured children

The health insurance status of children is of particular interest. National data from the 2018 and 2019 American Community Surveys, which differ slightly from the CPS-ASEC, show that 320,000 more children under age 19 were uninsured in 2019 than in 2018, a significantly different rise in the rate from 5.2 to 5.7 percent. All of the following differences of uninsured rates for children between 2018 and 2019 were significant, except for Asians.

Uninsured rate in Ohio

Using ACS data, the Census was able to estimate the uninsured rate at the state level for 2010 (pre-ACA), 2018 and 2019. In Ohio, 12.3 percent of the population was uninsured in 2010, 6.5 percent in 2018, and 6.6 percent in 2019. The difference was significant between 2010 and 2019, but not between 2018 and 2019.

Implications for 2020

Although the increases in income and declines in poverty in 2019 may seem to be good news, they do not consider the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, and we cannot assume the trends will continue when the data is compiled for 2020. Already there is ample evidence of increased food and housing insecurity, as well as economic decline and more business closures. People who have depended on employer-based health insurance are in danger of becoming uninsured and unable to pay medical bills. Some of these trends are evident in the Census Bureau’s ongoing COVID Pulse survey, and will undoubtedly show up in the income, poverty and health insurance data for 2020 which will be released in September 2021.

Technical note

The CPS ASEC is based on a survey of households taken each March, for income and poverty from the previous calendar year. In March 2020, data collection was curtailed due to the coronavirus pandemic. This caused a lower response rate than usual, with successful responses skewed toward households with higher incomes and educational attainment. The Census Bureau estimates that correcting for the resulting nonresponse bias would lower the official median household income in 2019 from $68,700 to $66,790 and raise the overall poverty rate from 10.5 percent to 11.1 percent.

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