The latest American Community Survey (ACS) was released by the U.S. Census Bureau on September 14, 2017. The ACS is an annual survey that provides information about income, housing, education, health insurance, poverty, and many other data sets.
“The American Community Survey allows us to track incremental changes across our nation on how the nation’s people live and work, year-to-year,” Census Bureau Social, Economic, and Housing Statistics Division Chief David Waddington said.
According to the Census Bureau website, it is also one of the sources used to determine federal and state fund distribution.
While the new survey reports that the U.S. median household income trended up slightly and poverty rates declined in almost half of the states between 2015 and 2016, those gains just aren’t enough for low-income America. Sure, things are improving. A little bit. But that little bit doesn’t help the millions of Americans that continue to live in poverty or the families living just above the poverty line; those families that are still poor and unable to make ends meet just like those on the other side of the line, but not quite poor enough to be considered living in poverty.
Although they may beg to differ.
Here’s the good news found in the ACS report:
- Median household income increased to $57,617 in 2016 inflation-adjusted dollars (see graphic below). This is up from $56,516 in 2015 (cited from the Census Bureau Income and Poverty in the United States: 2015).
- Income inequality has not changed significantly on a national level, although there have been some increases and decreases on a state basis.
- Poverty rates declined in 24 states.
The bad news is, for the most part, things haven’t really changed.
While poverty levels may have decreased in some states, the overall poverty level listed at 14% (see graphic below) has not when compared to the 2015 poverty rate of 13.5% cited by the Census Bureau 2015 Income and Poverty report.
Additionally, income inequality remains just as high in the United States as the year prior, and in fact, the two years before that as well. Income inequality is measured by a standard economic measure called the Gini index. 0.0 is total equality of income distribution, while a score of 1.0 equates to complete income equality. According to the Census Bureau, the United States has a Gini index score of .48. Although the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) put that number lower at 0.39 back in 2015, it is still one of the highest of the OECD countries, with only Turkey, Chile and Mexico ranking higher for income inequality.
And when it comes to the overwhelming number of children living in poverty, these small increases and decreases in median household incomes and poverty levels don’t make much of a dent in the problem.
According to the National Center for Children in Poverty (NCCP), 43% of children under 18 years of age live in low-income families (Basic Facts about Low-Income Children, Children under 18 Years, 2015). That’s 30.6 million children living in low-income families, with 14.8 million of those children living at levels that are classed as poor, where poor is defined as below 100% of the Federal Poverty Threshold and low-income being at or below 200% of the Federal Poverty Threshold.
This is different to the 19.7% poverty rate for children under 18 years of age cited in the 2015 U.S. Census Bureau Income and Poverty report. This is an important distinction to note, because only children from families living below the poverty level are included in the official poverty rates. All of those families slightly above the poverty line are excluded, even though according to the NCCP, research indicates that families generally need an income equal to two times the Federal Poverty Threshold to meet most basic needs.
What does this mean in simple terms? There are a lot more families out there struggling to make ends meet and many more children growing up deprived than we are seeing in the poverty figures. And when you dig deeper, it gets even worse for many amongst our communities. According to the NCCP, Black, Hispanic and American Indian children are disproportionately low income with 63% of black children and 61% of Hispanic and American Indian children living in low-income families compared to 30% of white children, 29% of Asian children and 39% of children of some other race.
And the impact of poverty on children can be devastating. The damage on every aspect of a child’s life is well documented. It affects everything from their ability to learn, to social and emotional challenges, not to mention their physical and mental health. This damage not only makes life as a child challenging, but it also impacts their future adult lives.
As one of the richest country in the world, it’s shocking that so many go without, and even more unconscionable that so many of those are children. And until the United States faces the problems of income inequality and poverty head on, we’re unlikely to see real change.
So what can you do? Make your voice heard in regards to federal and state policies that you don’t agree with, and help those assisting the poor any way you can. That might mean donating items to a family shelter or donating your time to help teach underprivileged children, or giving to community projects and charity funds like the David & Teresa Disiere Foundation.
Every little bit helps, and if we all do what we can, that little bit could end up being a lot for those in our communities that need the most help.
For more information about the David & Teresea Disiere Foundation visit www.daviddisiere.org.