U.S. Poverty Hit a Record Low Before the Pandemic Recession

The share of Americans in poverty in 2019 declined and median incomes were the highest on record, a Census Bureau report showed.




By Jeanna Smialek, Sarah Kliff and Alan Rappeport

WASHINGTON — A record-low share of Americans were living in poverty, incomes were climbing, and health insurance coverage was little changed in 2019, a government report released on Tuesday showed — though the circumstances of many have deteriorated as pandemic lockdowns and industry disruptions have thrown millions out of work.

The share of Americans living in poverty fell to 10.5 percent in 2019, the Census Bureau reported, down 1.3 percentage points from 2018. That rate is the lowest since estimates were first published in 1959.

Household incomes increased to their highest level on record dating to 1967, at $68,700 in inflation-adjusted terms. That change came as individual workers saw their earnings climb and as the total number of people working increased.

Methodology changes made after 2013 also make comparing data across time tricky. But even adjusting for those differences, the 2019 income figures appeared to be the highest on record, based on Census estimates.

Interviews for this year’s income and poverty report were disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic, a Census official said. Some economists warned that the disruptions could have made the data look too rosy.

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