Some recent news on the American economy

The Census Bureau a couple of weeks ago released an update on the U.S. economy for 2017. The headline was that real median household income had increased by 2.6 percent, and was about $61,000, and the poverty rate was 12.3%. The poverty line for a family of four with two children under 18 is about $25,000. (The New York Times defines an “affordable” seaside getaway as costing about $500 a night, so there is room for disagreement on what constitutes poverty.)

Median Household Income[Source: U.S. Census Bureau]

Note: A Brookings commentary suggests viewing the Census report, based on responses to surveys, with caution, since the quality of survey measures in general has been declining as Americans are less likely to respond.

If you think that improving health insurance coverage is a good measure of progress in constructing a society of equal opportunity for all, where people can afford to be more entrepreneurial because they will have insurance against serious illness, then this graphic suggests the country has been moving in the right direction.

Population Without Health Insurance Coverage[Source: U.S. Census Bureau]

The one area probably that worries economists the most about the U.S. economy is persisting low (relative the pre-2007) prime-age participation in the labor market. One study by the San Francisco Fed staff suggested that this decline was mostly “attributable to the disappearance of manual labor positions in manufacturing and other industries…”. The study concludes on a pessimistic note:

Moreover, as the job market has evolved and some labor force participants have dropped out, other long-term economic and social trends have reinforced low participation rates among prime-age individuals. As discussed in Abraham and Kearney (2018), these factors include the rise in disability claims and other indicators of poor health (such as opioid abuse), an increasing fraction of individuals (primarily men) with prison records, and improvements in the availability and quality of leisure pursuits, such as online gaming; these factors are also discussed in Board of Governors (2018) and CBO (2018).

About mkevane

Economist at Santa Clara University and Director of Friends of African Village Libraries.
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