The US Census Bureau released findings showing 27.5 million Americans (8.5%) lack health insurance, up from 7.9% in 2017. This is the first increase since the Affordable Care Act came into effect in 2014. However, even though the share of uninsured citizens has risen, poverty has fallen to 11.8% from 12.3%. Although for the first time in 11 years the rate was significantly lower than the year before the Great Recession of 2007, the median U.S. household income was $63,179, which was roughly the same on an inflation-adjusted basis as the $61,372 median in 2017. That followed gains of 3.2% in 2016 and 1.8% in 2017. Household income includes bonuses, Social Security, public assistance payments and interest and dividends from investment, among other sources.
The change in health coverage was driven primarily by a decrease in public insurance for the poor, with enrollment in Medicaid dropping by 0.7 percent, the data show. The findings show that uninsured rate spiked, especially among adults who are Hispanic and foreign-born, with the increase in uninsured among both groups three times the national average. Insurance also dwindled among children who are Hispanic and naturalized citizens. In addition, the number of low-income Americans on Medicaid tends to decline when the economy expands, as it did last year, while some states have been clamping down on eligibility and following the administration urging to impose work requirements in the program.
The number of full-time, year-round workers increased by 2.3 million in 2018. The unemployment rate fell to 3.9% at the end of last year from 4.1% 12 months earlier and 10% in 2009. Poverty fell in every region but the South, where the poverty rate was unchanged at 13.6%. H. Luke Shaefer, director of Poverty Solutions at the University of Michigan said, “There’s some good news in this report, we still see there’s large numbers of people who are spending a significant fraction of their income on rent … With median income staying flat, I think there’s a lot of people who feel like they can’t pay their bills and aren’t making progress.’’
Aside from the decreases in household income and health insured people, the Census Bureau report showed that the decade-long recovery is delivering income gains to middle-class and low-income families. Michael R. Strain, an economist at the American Enterprise Institute said that after decades of rising inequality, recent wage gains have been strongest for people at the bottom of the earnings ladder.
“You’re seeing improvements in employment outcomes for people with disabilities. You’re seeing improvements in employment outcomes for the formerly incarcerated,” Mr. Strain said. “These workers who are potentially more vulnerable, you’re seeing the recovery reach them.” While Tuesday’s report showed the benefits of what now ranks as the longest economic expansion on record, it also showed the limitations of that growth. Median household income is only modestly higher now than when the recession began in late 2007 and is essentially unchanged since the dot-com bubble burst in 2000.