STATEMENT: Today’s Census Bureau Data Provide an Out-of-Date and Incomplete Picture of Hardship in the U.S.

Washington, D.C. —  Today, the U.S. Census Bureau released data on income, poverty, and health insurance for 2019. Because the data only encompass 2019, they provide a snapshot of these rates before the pandemic but do not reflect the vastly changed world since then. Following the data release, Alexandra Cawthorne Gaines, vice president of the Poverty to Prosperity Program at the Center for American Progress, issued the following statement:  

Today, the U.S. Census Bureau announced that the median household income in 2019 increased by 6.8 percent from 2018 and the official poverty rate decreased by 1.3 percent. While any increase in income and decrease in poverty is good news, today’s numbers come with several very large asterisks. In particular, because the data are from 2019, they do not reflect the current state of our economy. Since the data were collected at the end of last year, the Trump administration’s mismanagement of the coronavirus pandemic has left tens of millions of Americans facing new or worsening economic hardship in every state in the nation. 

Over the past six months, tens of millions of people—disproportionately women and people of color—have lost their jobs. In the early months of the pandemic, the CARES Act, which included the now-expired $600-a-week enhanced unemployment insurance benefits, kept an estimated 12 million people above the official poverty line. Now, the country is facing a dramatic increase in levels of poverty and hardship because the White House and the Senate still won’t do what the House of Representatives did months ago: pass a meaningful relief bill that would address the depth and scope of the public health and economic crisis. Thanks to White House and Senate negligence, millions are facing food and housing insecurity while billionaires have increased their net worths by hundreds of billions of dollars.

Today’s data also do not reflect how difficult it was, even before the pandemic, for millions of people to make ends meet. The poverty line for a family of four is only $25,926; in most places, that is not enough to reliably keep food on the table or ensure safe and secure housing. Today’s poverty data also leave out the tens of millions of people whose incomes technically keep them above the poverty line but are still struggling to provide the basics for their families. Even before the pandemic, millions of everyday people were being left behind, even as corporate America padded their bottom lines

Finally, while the data reflect 2019, they were collected in early 2020, including over the first months of the pandemic. Thus they likely paint a rosier picture of poverty in the United States due to decreased participation by lower-income people.

These data reflect the deep structural inequities that are baked into the U.S. economy. The gender wage gap has persisted, with women working full time, year round earning just 82 cents for every $1 earned by their male counterparts. The gap remains significantly wider for Black and Hispanic women, who earn just 63 cents and 55 cents, respectively, for every $1 earned by white, non-Hispanic men. Notably, the wage gap for Asian women compared with white, non-Hispanic men grew 30 percent from 2018 to 2019. The data also show that people of color continue to experience disproportionate levels of poverty. While the poverty rate for white Americans was 7.3 percent, that of Hispanic Americans was more than twice that at 15.7 percent and, even higher, at 18.8 percent for African Americans.

Today’s data release also shows that, even before the pandemic, 2.3 million more people lacked health insurance than before Donald Trump was inaugurated—crippling families’ ability to contend with health emergencies such as COVID-19. This backsliding comes in spite of more states, such as Virginia and Maine, expanding Medicaid coverage to nearly half a million people. Alarmingly, Hispanic Americans—who are among the groups hit hardest by COVID-19—are suffering the most from the Trump administration’s threats to health care, realizing the greatest increase in uninsurance in 2019.

This year’s data release provides an out-of-date and incomplete picture of the hardship people experience in this country. However, when you contrast the poverty in this country in 2019, with soaring corporate profits, this release does underscore what is clearly a central tenet of President Trump’s economic agenda: use government to help the rich get richer, while looking away as millions of everyday Americans are left to struggle.   

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