It looks like Americans finally got a raise.
The U.S. Census Bureau on Tuesday released its annual report on income, poverty and health insurance. Every year, the report serves as a key benchmark for how the American people are doing economically.
And this year the report is very encouraging.
The percentage of people without health insurance for all of 2015 was 9.1 percent, down 1.3 percentage points from the previous year. That’s the lowest that the Census Bureau has ever measured, reflecting the impact of the Affordable Care Act.
The official poverty rate in 2015 was 13.5 percent, which was 1.2 percentage points lower than in 2014. The supplemental poverty rate, which takes into account other factors such as the value of government benefits and the costs of medical expenses, fell by nearly the same amount.
But it’s the figures on median household income that will, and should, get the most attention.
According to the report, median household income rose by 5.2 percent, from $53,700 to $56,500. This is the largest increase the Census Bureau has ever recorded.
That figure reflects rising incomes for all income groups, which is a very big deal. The story of the past few years ― and, really, for most of the last few decades ― has been an economy in which the rich have prospered far more than everybody else.
The Great Recession officially ended in the summer of 2009. This report is a sign that, finally, everybody is benefiting from the recovery. In fact, the largest income gains last year went to the very poorest Americans.
“This is a big fucking deal,” Justin Wolfers, a professor of economics at the University of Michigan, told The Huffington Post after seeing the report.
He had a lot of company on Twitter:
Of course, the report doesn’t suggest everything is hunky-dory in America. Not by a long shot.
Median income still hasn’t reached its pre-recession level. And although more and more Americans have protection against steep medical bills, thanks to Obamacare, millions still struggle with the combined effect of high premiums and high out-of-pocket expenses.
In fact, medical bills are a major reason that America’s poverty rate, although lower than it was last year, remains higher than it is in other developed nations. Overall, more than 40 million Americans are still in poverty, which means that more than 40 million Americans are struggling every day just to pay for food, rent or other necessities.
But the report does call into doubt two political arguments that get a lot of currency these days ― that America is in decline, and that the policies of President Barack Obama are to blame.
Not coincidentally, White House officials were among those hailing the report: