What the New Poverty Data Means for People of Color

On Tuesday the Census Bureau released its annual report “Income and Poverty in the United States: 2013″ which provides information on poverty and incomes. The report has a number of implications for people of color and those in poverty. Here are a few highlights.

The poverty rate is down for the first time since 2006.

In 2013, 14.5 percent of people in the United States — or nearly one in every six Americans — were in poverty according to the official poverty rate, compared to 15% of people in 2012. This is the first time the official poverty rate has gone down since 2006.

Things may be improving for Hispanic* households.

Hispanic households saw a real median income increase of 3.5 percent between 2012 and 2013, their first annual increase in median income since 2000. Further, Hispanics were the only major racial or ethnic group to see a statistically significant change in their poverty rate. From 2012 to 2013 the rate fell from 25.6 percent to 23.5 percent and the number of Hispanics in poverty fell from 13.6 million to 12.7 million.

What remains unclear is which groups of Hispanics left poverty.This is largely due to the way that the Census collects race data. The major race groups used are Black, non-Hispanic White and Asian. Hispanic is considered an ethnicity, not a race. However, the term Hispanic covers a very diverse group of people in the United States, some of whom are White, others Black, indigenous or native, as well as recent immigrants and not-so-recent immigrants. Did only certain groups of Hispanics see this decrease in poverty? It is impossible to say.

Economic Recovery isn’t for Everyone.

Real median household income is still well below 2001 levels for all families. Yet, some groups are recovering faster than others. For non-Hispanic whites median household income is still down 5.6 percent, and for Hispanics it is 8.7 percent lower than pre- 2001 recession levels.  Asian-Americans — who experience the highest median income of any racial group — are seeing the second slowest recovery. Their median incomes are 11.1 percent below what they were in 2000. African-American household incomes, however, remain 13.8 percent lower than they were fourteen years ago. Black people still have the highest poverty rate at 27.2 percent.

A poor man’s recession.

The recession didn’t only disproportionately impact Black Americans. Those at the lower end of the income distribution were also more affected than those at the top. Between 1999 (just before the dot-com recession of the early 2000s) and 2013, incomes of the poorest 10 percent of households fell by 14.3 percent. Middle class families didn’t fare much better — the median household saw it’s annual income fall by nearly 9 percent over the same time period.  On the other end of the spectrum, the wealthiest 10 percent of households saw no discernible declines in their incomes. This means that those with the lowest incomes saw the greatest declines in income, while those with the most were hardly affected.

For more information, check out the full Census Bureau report here.

*I use the term Hispanic when referring to the Census data because it is the way the data is organized by the Census Bureau. I respect that many people do not identify with this term. The Census considers Hispanic an ethnicity, not a race. This means that a person can be both Hispanic and a member of a certain race (i.e. Black, White, Asian, etc) for the purposes of Census data collection.

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