America's poverty rate declined from 15 percent in 2012 to 14.5 percent last year, marking the first statistically significant decrease since 2006, according to new figures from the U.S. Census Bureau.
An increase in the number of year-round, full-time workers helped lower the overall poverty rate, Census Bureau officials said. Between 2012 and 2013, the number of men and women working full time, year-round with earnings increased by 1.8 million and 1.0 million, respectively, the figures showed. In 2013, a total of 60.8 million men and 45.1 million worked full-time.
The child poverty rate also dropped significantly from 21.8 percent in 2012 to 19.9 percent in 2013, while the share of uninsured Americans also fell slightly during the same time.
Despite bright spots in the new Census reports on income, poverty and health insurance, Robert Greenstein with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities said the economy strengthened too slowly in 2013 "to improve the living standards of many middle- and low-income Americans."
Median household income in 2013 did not increase significantly and is 8.0 percent, or $4,500, lower than before the recession in 2007, he said. The 2013 median household income was $51,939, which is just slightly above the $51,719 that Americans earned in 1995.
Greenstein also pointed out that the overall poverty rate "remains well above its 12.5 percent level in 2007 and even farther above its 2000 level, which was 11.3 percent."
In all, there were 45.3 million Americans living at or below the poverty line in 2013, which is not a significant change from 2012, according to the Census Bureau.
For Latinos, the poverty rate fell 2.1 percentage points from 2012 to 2013, while it stayed about the same for whites and blacks, said Valerie Wilson, director of the Economic Policy Institute's (EPI) Program on Race, Ethnicity and the Economy.
The number of children in poverty declined from 16.1 million in 2012 to 14.7 million in 2013. Still, that means one in five American children live in poverty.
The new figures also show that African-American and Latino children are still three to four times more likely to live in poverty than white children, Wilson said.
When asked whether state-level minimum wage increases might have helped lower the overall child poverty rate, Wilson said, "Anything that happens to improve wages for adults, parents, is going to have a positive effect on poverty rates for children."
The statistics released Tuesday came from two reports: Income and Poverty in the United States: 2013 and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2013.
On Monday, the conservative Heritage Foundation put out a report about poverty ahead of the new Census figures. The foundation takes issues with the official Census poverty report, saying it "undercounts welfare income," and therefore "fails to provide meaningful information about the actual living conditions of less affluent Americans."
So, the Heritage Foundation compiled a list of the "actual living conditions of the more than 45 million people deemed 'poor' by the Census Bureau," suggesting that those living in poverty don't have it that bad. According to the Heritage Foundation, 43 percent of poor households have Internet access, 92 percent have a microwave, nearly two-thirds have cable or satellite television and nearly three-quarters have a car or truck, to name just a few of the group's bullet points.
Meanwhile, Josh Bivens, EPI's research and policy director, highlighted some positive income figures from last year.
The average income for the bottom 40 percent of families did increase by about 2 percent in 2013, a break from five previous years of declines.
Overall, family income growth in 2013 was stronger among the bottom- and middle-income groups than the top, he said. Nonetheless, Bivens stressed that a "full recovery has not been achieved nor has inequality been conquered."
"Even with this year's growth in 2013, the bottom fifth of families have incomes that are about 16 percent lower than what prevailed in 2000," he said. "The second fifth of families — families between the 20th and 40th percentile — they have incomes in 2013 [that were] about 10 percent lower than what prevailed 13 years earlier. So we need to see a lot more years like 2013 in order for that bottom 40 percent of families to dig out of that huge hole."
"[The] data says we may have just turned the corner in terms of pushing up wages and incomes for the bottom half of the income distribution, and it would be a real tragedy to pull the plug on that," Bivens added.
The black-white income gap also narrowed over the past year, from 58.4 cents for every dollar of white median household income in 2012 to 59.4 cents in 2013, Wilson said. In 2013, the Hispanic-white income gap was 70.3 cents on the dollar, compared to 68.4 cents in 2012.
The gender wage gap also shrank to 78 cents last year. However, that means 2013 earnings for women were still $10,800 less than what men took home that year.
“There’s good news and bad news," Fatima Goss Graves, vice president for education and employment at the National Women’s Law Center, said of the new wage data. "The good news: the wage gap is shrinking. The very bad news: it’s by only a penny. So this means that women on average still make only 78 cents for every dollar a man makes. And that means that millions of women and their families continue to slide backwards year after year. We can and must do better than this. It’s time to close the wage gap now.”
The earnings gap between black and white females, however, has widened since 2009, Wison noted.
In 2013, black women earned 78 cents for every dollar earned by white women, compared to 80 cents in 2009. Hispanic females made 71 cents on every dollar paid to white females in 2013, down from 72 cents in 2009.
Among other key numbers from the Census Bureau, the percent of people without health insurance ticked down 0.2 percent between 2012 and 2013.
A total of 42 million people, or 13.4 percent, were uninsured for the full 2013 calendar year. On the other hand, the percentage of people with health insurance for all or part of 2013 was 86.6 percent, the figures show.
Greenstein noted that a number of other studies and statistics, including new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data issued Tuesday morning, "show that the number of Americans without insurance has fallen markedly in 2014 with implementation of health reform."
"These studies also show that the states that expanded Medicaid under health reform experienced much larger declines in their uninsured populations this year than states that rejected the expansion," he said. "Since today’s Census and CDC data also show that people in the more than 20 states that rejected the expansion were likelier to be uninsured in 2013 than people in states that took the expansion, this means the gap in health insurance coverage between the two groups of states is widening."