WASHINGTON — Americans’ real income increased in 1995 for the first time in six years, the Census Bureau said Thursday in its annual economic report, promptly trumpeted by President Clinton as “a good day for our country.”
The analysis also found a decline in the number of poor, including the first time that the elderly had significantly less poverty than working-age Americans.
“Today it is clear that more and more of our people are sharing in that prosperity. We are growing — and growing together,” Clinton said.
Median household income for Americans was $34,076 in 1995, up 2.7 percent from the year before and the first real increase in six years, after adjusting for inflation, the Bureau said.
In addition, the agency reported that the number of poor Americans dropped 1.6 million to 36.4 million from 1994 to 1995. That resulted in a decline in the share of Americans living in poverty from 14.5 percent to 13.8 percent. The poverty threshold for a family of four in 1995 was $15,569.
Maine bucked the poverty trend, with the state’s poverty rate rising from 9.4 percent in ’94 to 11.2 percent last year. However, the median income of Mainers increased in that span from $31,175 to $33,858.
The Census statistics covered both family and nonfamily households, a first since the those distinctions were made in 1980, said Daniel H. Weinberg, chief of the Bureau’s Housing and Household Economics Statistics Division.
Joseph Stiglitz, chairman of the president’s Council of Economic Advisers, described it as a “golden situation.” Wages are rising faster than inflation, but not so quickly that they could lead to higher interest rates, chilling economic growth, he said.
But a spokesman for Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole said “economic anxiety is real in America today” and the statistics “do nothing to comfort a homemaker trying to buy groceries or a wage earner worried about the next paycheck.”
Campaign spokesman Nelson Warfield said in a statement the earnings of full-time workers declined, and the improvement in household income was due primarily to more members of a household working.
Isaac Shapiro, a senior staff member at the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, an advocacy group for the poor, noted that problems remain: millions of Americans still lack health insurance, the economy did not improve for Hispanics and poverty remains higher than it has been at times in years past.
Nonetheless, Shapiro was pleased with overall signs of progress and praised the Bureau for what he called “evenhanded” treatment of the statistics in an election year.
The numbers “are not cooked,” he said. “The reputation and integrity of the Census Bureau are both excellent.”
Having fewer children in poverty is an improvement, but progress remains slow, said Julian Palmer of the New York-based National Center for Children in Poverty. He noted that child poverty in the United States remains higher than in any other industrialized country.
The Midwest led the way in income with a 7.2 percent increase in median household income to $35,839, Weinberg said.
Indeed, the Bureau considered that the only region to have a statistically significant improvement. The change in the rest of the country fell within the statistical margin of error.
Changes in other regions were: West, up 1.6 percent to $35,979; Northeast, up 0.5 percent to $36,111 and South, up 0.2 percent to $30,942.
Median means half of all households had more income and half less. Statisticians prefer to use median, instead of average, which they contend can be distorted by a small number of households with very high incomes.