The Census Bureau said Wednesday that incomes for a typical household, adjusted for inflation, rose 1.8 percent, from $60,309 in 2016 to $61,372. Yet households are still earning essentially the same income they did in 2007 just before the Great Recession, Census said. Their inflation-adjusted median income remains below the record for a typical household — $62,000 reached in 1999.
The figures suggest that the nation’s very low unemployment rate — 3.9 percent — is forcing businesses to convert more part-time workers to full-time status. And with unemployed workers scarce, companies are hiring more people who previously weren’t looking for work. During 2017, the unemployment rate averaged 4.4 percent, the lowest level in 17 years.
At the same time, the data underscores the lasting damage the Great Recession did to the majority of American families. Incomes for the median household fell for five years after recession began in late 2007, then recovered very slowly until 2015. That year, median household income jumped 5.1 percent, followed by a 3.1 percent gain in 2016.
The median is the point at which half the households are below and half are above. In can be a more telling measure than the average, which is distorted by extremely high incomes among the wealthiest households.
Last year, the number of people with jobs rose by 1.7 million, the Census report said. And the number of workers with full-time permanent jobs increased 2.4 million.
For years after the recession ended in 2009, the number of part-time workers who would have preferred full-time jobs remained elevated. Yet that figure has now fallen back to pre-recession levels.
The growing economy and tighter job market are also lifting more Americans out of poverty. The percentage of Americans living below the poverty line fell to 12.3 percent in 2017 from 12.7 percent in 2016, a third straight decline. Since 2014, the poverty rate has fallen 2.5 percentage points. Still, nearly 40 million Americans remain poor by the Census Bureau’s count.
Most measures of income inequality worsened last year. The median income for a white household rose 2.6 percent to $68,145. But the median for African-American households slipped 0.2 percent to $40,258. Latino household incomes, however, jumped 3.7 percent to $50,486.
Asian households remain the wealthiest, with a median income of $81,331, though that was 2.2 percent lower than in 2016.