New poverty and income data from last year released Wednesday by the Census Bureau showed an unchanged poverty level from the 2013 rate of 14.8 percent and a median household income that did not increase.
Valerie Wilson of the Economic Policy Institute told NPR's Pam Fessler that these numbers were not encouraging, especially considering 2014 was a year with strong jobs growth.
"Unfortunately that did not translate into wage growth, income growth or significantly reduced poverty rates," she said.
The government says that 1 in 7 Americans — nearly 47 million people — was poor in 2014. But as Pam reported for All Things Considered, there are big disparities within that group.
"Last year, a family of four living on about $24,000 or less was considered poor. The Census Bureau says median household income stayed basically the same, at almost $54,000. ... While 10 percent of non-Hispanic whites were poor last year, the poverty rate for blacks and Hispanics was about 2 1/2 times higher. And while that wasn't a big change, Wilson says one change last year was very striking.
" 'African-American children saw an increase in their poverty rate this year by about 3.4 percentage points,' Wilson said. 'And that was actually the only group of children for whom the poverty rate increased.' "
But Jane Waldfogel of Columbia University says there are some encouraging signs in an alternative measure also released today by the Census Bureau that show the impact of safety net programs such as food stamps and tax breaks, which is not reflected in the official poverty measure.
She says that measures like the earned income tax credit and child tax credit are reducing child poverty, but the statistic remains exceptionally high in the U.S.
The Census Bureau figures did reveal this bright spot: Nearly 90 percent of Americans had health insurance last year — a 9 million-person increase from those who had coverage in 2013.