Americans’ incomes fell in 2020, Census figures show

Americans’ incomes fell in 2020, Census figures show

September 14, 2021

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American incomes fell last year as the U.S. dealt with the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, the Census Bureau said Tuesday.

The new data, in an annual assessment of the nation’s financial well being, offers insight into how households fared during the pandemic’s first year and arrives as Washington debates how much more to spend to bolster the economy during the worst public health crisis in a century.

Median household income was $67,500 in 2020, down 2.9% from the prior year.

U.S. median household income fell 2.9% in 2020 (AP Newsroom)

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In 2019, the year before the pandemic took hold, the nation’s median household income set what was then an inflation-adjusted record going back to 1967, when the bureau began using its current methodology.

The poverty rate in 2020 was 11.4%, an increase of 1 percentage point from 2019 and the first increase after five consecutive years of declines. That translated to 37.2 million people in poverty, an increase of 3.3 million from 2019.

The threshold for meeting the definition of poverty varies by household size and makeup. For a typical four-person household, it was $26,200 in 2020.

The bureau also said the proportion of Americans without health insurance for all of 2020 was 8.6%, essentially unchanged from 2018. About 28 million Americans lacked health insurance, according to the survey.

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The road ahead for the U.S. economy looks more uncertain than earlier in 2020. In recent weeks, growing evidence has built of lost momentum as COVID-19 cases rose again. Supply-chain challenges and a lack of workers for lower-paying jobs are also weighing on economic growth.

Rocky Smith Jr., a 41-year-old union worker who cuts metal parts down to size after they exit a furnace, said things are looking up for his family of four in Muskegon, Michigan. After being laid off in April 2020, he said, he wasn’t hired back until July 2021.

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Mr. Smith said he is now making more than $20 an hour at his full-time job. His wife, he said, resumed working during his unemployment and the family skipped meals out and other luxuries.

"We rolled with the punches," said Mr. Smith, a former boxer. "Life hit us, but we made it work."

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