Last week, the Census Bureau released its annual report on income, poverty, and health insurance in the United States. Don’t worry if you missed it. So did the Wall Street Journal, which noted several days later that the White House had failed to comment on the rather grim numbers. On Friday, the Journal’s editorial page dryly remarked, “it seems we’re on the wrong White House email lists.”
Unlike in 2012, when the administration accompanied the Census report with a statement boasting that that “we have made progress digging our way out of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression,” this year the only mention of the report was a modest blog post by Jason Furman, the Obama administration’s chief economist.
Perhaps it’s because this year’s numbers merely serve to reemphasize the nation’s economic doldrums. Poverty rates held steady as the nation’s median income decreased.
But this information is difficult to glean from Furman’s post, which seeks to mask the disappointing numbers with fancy graphics and convoluted prose.
He opens with the cheery news that “real median income for family households rose $408 in 2014.” Still, he is forced to acknowledge that, “overall median household income declined.”
The trick is all in the terms.
The Census defines a family household as people related by birth, marriage, or adoption. By contrast, non-family households are generally younger and lower-earning. According to the 2014 numbers, median income for non-family households was $32,000, less than half of the median income for family households ($68,000). Although median family income remained steady, the number of individuals in non-family households surged.
Furman predicts strong income growth in 2015 given the general trend that growth in aggregate weekly earnings (“the product of employment, hours worked per week, and wages earned per hour”) generally parallels growth in income.
Only that wasn’t the case in 2014, when weekly earnings implied a “1.0 percent increase in median income.” Instead, median income dropped by 1.5 percent. Despite this, Furman predicts that the 2015 data will show strong growth. It’s unclear why he has such confidence.
Furman further notes that the number of children in poverty has declined, a welcome change. To be clear, this is poverty defined according to the supplementary poverty measure, “a post-tax and post-transfer concept of resources.” According to the administration, handouts, not personal initiative, are what draws people out of poverty.
What’s hidden in the language of Furman’s post is the reality that many Americans are all too familiar with. Jobs are harder to find and pay less than they did before. Hourly work that had been full-time is now part-time.
You know the news is bad by how much it’s been buried.