Middle class income rises again — now up to $61,400

Middle class income rises again — now up to $61,400
Max Pepper/CNNMoney

Americans’ finances are continuing to improve.

Median household income rose to $61,400 in 2017, up 1.8% from a year earlier, according to data released by the US Census Bureau on Wednesday.

The report is the first look at the nation’s fortunes under the Trump administration. The increase continues a streak of strong income growth that began in 2015 during President Barack Obama’s second term. Median income grew 3.2% in 2016 and 5.2% the year before.

Median income is now statistically tied with where it was in 2007 and in 1999, according to Census officials. (The agency changed its methodology so dollar figures prior to 2013 aren’t comparable to current numbers.)

The number of Americans working full-time, year-round increased by 2.4 million. The median earnings of working men jumped 3%, but they remained statistically the same for working women.

The Top 5% of Americans saw stronger growth — their incomes jumped 3% last year.

“Today’s data show a marked slowdown in the pace of improvement relative to the previous two years,” said Elise Gould, senior economist at the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute. “While any reduction in poverty or increase in income is a step in the right direction, most families have barely made up ground lost over the past decade.”

Asians had the highest median household income of $81,300, while the income of non-Hispanic whites came in at $68,100, blacks at $40,300 and Hispanics at $50,500. Only non-Hispanic whites and Hispanics saw increases of 2.6% and 3.7%, respectively. Blacks and Asians did not see a statistically significant change.

Young Americans, age 15 to 24, saw their median income drop 5.8%, while older folks saw either no change or increases of up to 3%.

The poverty rate, meanwhile, dropped to 12.3%, down from 12.7% the prior year. There were 39.7 million people in poverty last year, which was not statistically different than a year earlier. The poverty threshold for a family of two adults and two children was an annual income of $24,858.

The improving financial picture likely stems more from the fact that an increasing number of people are getting jobs and they are working longer hours, rather than getting hefty raises, experts said. The unemployment rate began 2017 at 4.8% and ended the year at 4.1%.

Wage growth has remained muted for years. There are signs it is starting to pick up, but rising inflation may eat away at much of the gains.

Poverty, meanwhile, continues to decline as the economy strengthens. Last year, it returned to pre-recession levels.

Lower-income Americans are benefiting from the tight job market since employers are now willing to hire those who had been marginalized in the past. Also, 21 states plus the District of Columbia raised their minimum wages last year, giving poor workers an income boost that may have pushed them over the poverty line, Gould said.

Meanwhile, the uninsured rate held steady at 8.8%, with 28.5 million people lacking health coverage. These figures were not statistically different than 2016.

Last year was the first time the uninsured rate did not drop since major provisions of the Affordable Care Act took effect in 2014. Obamacare supporters pointed to the Trump administration’s undermining of the health reform law as a main cause.

“The stalled progress in reducing the number of uninsured is particularly noteworthy, marking a change from the historic coverage gains of recent years after the Affordable Care Act was implemented,” said Robert Greenstein, president of the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

The rate in the 19 states that did not expand Medicaid grew by 0.7 percentage points, however.