Census: A bad decade gets worse

The good news? Healthcare coverage is up. The bad news? Unless you are wealthy, in 2011, your income fell again

Topics: Poverty, Healthcare Reform, Income inequality, ,

Census: A bad decade gets worse (Credit: AP/Robert F. Bukaty)

The executive summary of brand-new numbers on poverty and health insurance released Wednesday by the U.S. Census: The rich are still getting richer, and the poor — well, the poor have a little bit more health insurance than they used to.

“Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2011″ is an 81-page avalanche of statistics currently being devoured by wonks everywhere craving the latest information on the American standard of living.

If there’s a surprise in the report, it’s that after three successive years in which both the poverty rate and the absolute number of people living in poverty rose every year, in 2011 there was no statistically meaningful change in poverty over 2010.

The same is not true for median household income. Median household income fell sharply for the second straight year, down 1.5 percent to 50,054. The drop continues a long-standing trend; as economist Justin Wolfers points out, median family income fell in the United States “through the Bush boom, the Great Recession and the Obama recovery.”

So if the question Mitt Romney is asking is “is your median household income better off today than four years ago?” the answer is, for most of us, no.

But not for all of us. Perhaps the most striking thing about the new report is how dramatically it illustrates growing income inequality in the United States. For the top 5 percent of Americans income grew by 4.3 percent in 2011 over 2010. For the top fifth of Americans, income grew by 1.6 percent. But for the second, third, and fourth quintiles — aka “the middle class” — income fell. (The poorest fifth of Americans held even.)

The main saving grace: health insurance coverage. Both the absolute number and total percentage of Americans without coverage fell.

But a little caution is necessary before rushing to credit Obamacare with the rise in healthcare coverage. While healthcare reform is surely responsible for a spike in the number of young people who have coverage through their parents, the biggest jumps in coverage are attributable to Medicaid and Medicare.

Which leads us seamlessly to an executive summary of the political implications of the new census numbers: The rich are getting richer, while the poor have more access to healthcare coverage — and Republicans want to cut taxes for the rich, while slashing government-subsidized healthcare.

Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    Rose Jay via Shutterstock

    Most popular dog breeds in America

    Labrador Retriever

    These guys are happy because their little brains literally can't grasp the concept of global warming.

    Hysteria via Shutterstock

    Most popular dog breeds in America

    German Shepherd

    This momma is happy to bring her little guy into the world, because she doesn't know that one day they'll both be dead.

    Christian Mueller via Shutterstock

    Most popular dog breeds in America

    Golden Retriever

    I bet these guys wouldn't be having so much fun if they knew the sun was going to explode one day.

    WilleeCole Photography via Shutterstock

    Most popular dog breeds in America


    This dude thinks he's tough, but only because nobody ever told him about ISIS.

    Soloviova Liudmyla via Shutterstock

    Most popular dog breeds in America


    This little lady is dreaming about her next meal-- not Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.

    Labrador Photo Video via Shutterstock

    Most popular dog breeds in America

    Yorkshire Terrier

    This trusting yorkie has never even heard the name "Bernie Madoff."

    Pavla via Shutterstock

    Most popular dog breeds in America


    She is smiling so widely because she is too stupid to understand what the Holocaust was.

    Aneta Pics via Shutterstock

    Most popular dog breeds in America


    Sure, frolic now, man. One day you're going to be euthanized and so is everyone you love.

    Dezi via Shutterstock

    Most popular dog breeds in America

    French Bulldog

    He's on a casual afternoon stroll because he is unfamiliar with the concept of eternity.

    Jagodka via Shutterstock

    Most popular dog breeds in America


    Wouldn't it be nice if we could all be this care-free? But we can't because we are basically all indirectly responsible for slavery.

  • Recent Slide Shows



Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>