Washington, D.C. — New data released by the U.S. Census Bureau today show no significant change among the share of Americans with incomes below the poverty line between 2013 and 2014. The Census reported that the nation’s official poverty rate remained flat in 2014 at 14.8 percent and that the median household income was $53,657.
When it comes to reducing poverty and inequality, policy matters, especially as four of five people will experience a period of economic insecurity during their working lives. In a new issue brief, the Center for American Progress takes a closer look at the policies behind today’s Census data and addresses how the current tax and budget battles in Congress are affecting the social insurance and assistance programs that help keep families out of poverty and promote economic security and opportunity.
“Our overall economy may be improving, but significant challenges remain for middle- and low-income families, who are not getting their fair share of the gains from economic growth,” said Melissa Boteach, Vice President of the Poverty to Prosperity Program at CAP. “With economic insecurity so shockingly commonplace for millions of Americans, Congress should move not just to protect but also to invest in programs and policies that bolster family economic stability as lawmakers look to finalize the fiscal year 2016 budget.”
As the media, policymakers, researchers, and the public review today’s new poverty and income figures from the Census, it’s important to understand the larger context of what these data tell us.
1. Poverty and economic insecurity are commonplace experiences. Four in five Americans experience poverty or related forms of economic insecurity during their working years, and movement above and below the poverty line is common. The most recent Census data tracking income changes for families over time reveal that 14.8 million people who had income below the poverty line in 2009 were no longer poor in 2012. A larger number—15.7 million people—had income above the poverty line in 2009 but were poor in 2012.
2. The poverty rate in the United States remains higher than it should be because of wage stagnation and the growth of inequality. Looking at just the past 10 years, the unemployment rate in 2014—6.2 percent—was roughly the same as it was about a decade earlier—6 percent in 2003. Yet a markedly higher share of people are experiencing economic insecurity: More than one-third of Americans under age 65 had incomes below 200 percent of the poverty line last year, compared with 30 percent in 2003. Policies to boost wages and labor standards, such as raising the minimum wage and the Obama administration’s proposed overtime rule, are essential tools to reduce poverty in America.
3. Social insurance and assistance programs are helping mitigate poverty and inequality and must be strengthened, not cut. Today’s release of the Supplemental Poverty Measure—which captures a broader range of income sources and expenses than the official poverty measure—shows that if tax credits such as the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit were not in place, more than 9.8 million more people would have been poor in 2014. Similarly, programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the National School Lunch Program, and housing choice vouchers and other rental assistance help millions of Americans avoid poverty.
New CAP analysis, for example, shows that these policies not only cut poverty but also mitigate inequality and boost income across education levels. Together, for example, social insurance and assistance policies boosted the average household income of working-age adults with high school diplomas by 12.7 percent, by 9 percent for those with some college, and nearly 4 percent for those with bachelor’s degrees.
Read the full issue brief, “3 Things You May Have Missed in the New Poverty, Income, and Inequality Data” by Melissa Boteach, Shawn Fremstad, and Rachel West, and see accompanying tables online here.
More from CAP on income and health insurance coverage Census findings, plus what’s missing in the data:
For more information on this topic or to speak with an expert, contact Liz Bartolomeo at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202.481.8151.