New Census data highlight rise in uninsured, the importance of Medicaid

The U.S. Census Bureau released new data Tuesday morning on income, poverty, and health coverage across the nation. The highlights include:

  • For the first time since 2009, the number of people in the U.S. with health care coverage has decreased.
  • While still far too many people are experiencing poverty, this is the first time the poverty rate has dropped below pre-Recession levels.
  • This data on income in the U.S. provide insight into a potential economic slowdown even while there have been modest improvements since the end of the Great Recession. Programs like Social Security, SNAP, and refundable tax credits such as the EITC lifted tens of millions of people in the U.S. out of poverty last year.

For the first time in three years, median household income remained unchanged from the previous year. At $63,179, the amount of income in a typical household has slowed. This indicates that despite job growth and people working harder to find jobs, many jobs are not paying wages that keep up with the rising costs of rent and child care, for example. Stagnation in median household income was experienced for Black, white and Latinx households over the period, while households with older Americans saw an increase in median income.

The overall poverty rate decreased by half a percentage point to 11.8 percent, representing 38.1 million people living on less than $25,100 for a family of four. This is the first time the poverty rate has dropped below pre-Recession levels.

From 2017 to 2018, the child poverty rate dropped from 17.4 percent to 16.2. Not everyone benefited equally from the reduction in poverty. White residents were the only racial group to experience a decrease in poverty while the rate among other racial groups was statistically unchanged from 2017. Additionally, every region in the U.S. saw a decrease in poverty except for the South, where the poverty rate remained at 13.6 percent.

A reduction in hardship without improvements to the financial position of Americans fails to boost our collective well-being.  One striking effect is that the rate of health insurance coverage decreased by 0.5 percent to 8.5 percent in the U.S. This marks the first time the number of people without health insurance has gone up since 2009. A portion of this loss of coverage was attributed to a 0.7 percent decrease in the number of people accessing Medicaid.

The Census report measures the impact of social programs on the poverty rate. Last year, Social Security benefits lifted 27.3 million people out of poverty. Refundable tax credits, like the EITC, and the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) lifted 7.9 million and 3.1 million people out of poverty, respectively. Meanwhile, medical expenses were responsible for pushing 8 million Americans into poverty.

Brian Kennedy II is a Senior Policy Analyst at the Budget & Tax Center, a project of the N.C. Justice Center.

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