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Census Bureau: Poverty Rate Down, Median Incomes Up

The Census Bureau released new numbers on Tuesday showing that real median household incomes rose from $53,718 in 2014 to $56,516 last year.

More Americans are making more money.

The U.S. Census Bureau released new numbers on Tuesday showing that, after a brutal economic recession and years of stagnation, real median household incomes rose from $53,718 in 2014 to $56,516 last year. That's a 5.2 percent rise — the first statistically significant increase since 2007.

But, as NPR's Pam Fessler notes, "the median household income was still lower than it was in 2007."

The official poverty rate decreased to 13.5 percent for last year, a drop of 1.2 percentage points. That represents 3.5 million people who are no longer in poverty and is the largest annual percentage point drop since 1999, the Census Bureau says.

The supplemental poverty measure — an alternate way of gauging poverty, which takes more factors into account — also dropped significantly, falling by 1 percentage point to 14.3 percent.

"Poverty dropped for whites, blacks and Hispanics, as well as for children and seniors," Pam reports.

The number of people with health insurance also rose. More than 90 percent of Americans are covered by health insurance — an increase of 1.3 percentage points since 2014, and growth of 4.3 percentage points since the major provisions of the Affordable Care Act, the bureau says.

Last year, 29 million people did not have health insurance, representing 9.1 percent of the population.

Across the board, the Census Bureau's 2015 numbers show significant signs of progress and reflect a recovering economy.

The 5.2 percent increase in median household income, in particular, was impressive — "one of the largest year-to-year increases that we've ever had," Trudi Renwick of the Census Bureau said.

The income gains for most Americans are tied to growth in employment, as The Associated Press reports:

"The income gains and drop in poverty reflect ongoing gains in the job market, Renwick said. About 2.4 million more Americans found full-time, year-round jobs in 2015.

"Americans are also likely benefiting from an increase in middle-income jobs. Many of the jobs created in the early years of the recovery have been in low-paying sectors, such as fast food restaurants and retail.

"But according to a report from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, in 2014 and 2015 the growth of middle-income jobs in sectors such as shipping and construction outpaced the gains in lower-paying and higher-paying work."

Income rose in every region of the country, for every age group of household head, with statistically significant increases for almost every racial group.

But as The New York Times' Nate Cohn points out, rural America didn't experience the same growth as the rest of the country. The median income for people living outside of metropolitan areas dropped 2 percent, to $44,657.

The Census Bureau also looked at economic inequality, where measures did not show any statistically significant changes — even though poorer Americans saw the biggest percentage growth in their incomes.

The difference in income between men and women also did not change by any statistically significant degree. But it did move slightly, from 79 cents on the dollar to 80 cents on the dollar.

"‎But we can't forget that 80 cents is just part of the story," Lisa Maatz of the American Association of University Women notes in a statement. "The pay gap gets worse for women of color and moms."

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