The rebound of the U.S. economy finally is being felt by everyday Americans. It’s about time.
For the first time since 2007, median U.S. household income went up 5.2 percent in 2015 to $56,516, the Census Bureau reported this week.
Even with that improvement, the median income remains below the $57,423 mark it reached in 2007, which was the year before the Great Recession began.
Also, most Americans have not enjoyed real income increases in more than a decade. And the minimum wage of $7.25 hasn’t changed for most low-wage workers since 2009.
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Still, people are right to embrace the annual report on income and poverty as a sign that the economic recovery is reaching more Americans.
The Great Recession officially lasted from December 2007 to June 2009, resulting in high unemployment, widespread housing foreclosures and millions of Americans losing money in the stock market, retirement accounts and equity in their homes.
Billions of dollars in federal stimulus packages benefited the wealthy, big financial institutions and corporations. But for everyday folks, unemployment rose to 10.1 percent by October 2009; it has slowly dropped back to a healthier 4.9 percent.
In the recent data, median income in the Midwest rose 5.1 percent between 2014 and 2015. That compared with 6.4 percent in the West, 4.9 percent in the Northeast and 2.9 percent in the South.
Minority as well as white households enjoyed increases. And women slightly narrowed the pay gap, with women earning on average 80 cents for every dollar that men took home, up from 79 cents the year before.
In another positive development, the poverty rate went down 1.2 percentage points to 13.5 percent in 2015. The decrease was the largest annual percentage point drop since 1999.
The inability of the recovery to reach middle- and working-class Americans has made it a central issue in the presidential election. Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton each claim to be the better candidate when it comes to income inequality.
As the new numbers reveal, much more progress is needed to restore many workers’ confidence that they will be better off financially tomorrow than they are today.