Health & Family

Census: Health coverage expands in 2014; poverty, wages stagnate

The share of Americans without health insurance fell to 10.4 percent in 2014 as nearly 9 million people gained health coverage, according to new government figures released Wednesday. In photo, nurse practitioner Blen Abdi prepares the room at the CVS Minute Clinic in Pentagon City in Arlington, Va., on May 6, 2015.
The share of Americans without health insurance fell to 10.4 percent in 2014 as nearly 9 million people gained health coverage, according to new government figures released Wednesday. In photo, nurse practitioner Blen Abdi prepares the room at the CVS Minute Clinic in Pentagon City in Arlington, Va., on May 6, 2015. McClatchy

The share of Americans without health insurance fell to 10.4 percent in 2014 as nearly 9 million people gained health coverage, according to government figures released Wednesday.

Thirty-three million Americans lacked health insurance in 2014, down from 41.8 million, or 13.3 percent, in 2013, the annual Census Bureau survey found.

The findings largely reflect the coverage expansions engineered by the Affordable Care Act, President Barack Obama’s signature legislative achievement, which requires most Americans to have health insurance or pay a fine.

Meanwhile, the nation’s median household income – the amount at which half of Americans earn more or less – remained virtually unchanged at $53,657 in 2014, the bureau reported.

14.8% The percentage of Americans living in poverty, unchanged from the previous year.

The poverty rate was likewise unchanged at 14.8 percent in 2014, with nearly 47 million Americans living in poverty. The poverty rate for families was 11.6 percent, with 9.5 million families living below the poverty line.

It was the third straight year that median income stagnated, showing no statistically significant change, and the fourth straight year that the poverty rate has likewise shown no change.

The new estimates will bolster calls from low-income labor activists to increase federal, state and local minimum wages.

“If anybody was ever wondering why the people of this country are feeling so ornery and expressing that in their political choices, you should look no further than this report. There was incredible income stagnation across the entire income spectrum,” said Lawrence Mishel, president of the Economic Policy Institute, a pro-labor think tank.

The Affordable Care Act introduced insurance marketplaces that sell health plans to people who lack job-based coverage and expanded eligibility for Medicaid, the state/national health plan for low-income Americans. The new Census Bureau report is the first to measure health insurance coverage after these two policy changes were fully implemented.

The largest change in coverage last year was a 3.2 percentage point gain in “direct-purchase” coverage, which includes health plans sold through state and the federal marketplaces. Medicaid coverage also grew by 2 percentage points last year and is now covering 19.5 percent of Americans.

The poverty rate for white non-Hispanics rose 0.1 percentage points to 10.1 percent in 2014, while the poverty rate for blacks rose 1 percentage point to 26.2 percent. The Hispanic poverty rate fell 1.1 percentage points to 23.6 percent.

The poverty rate for children fell slightly in 2014 to 21.1 percent.

A separate supplemental report that measures the impact of government benefits on poverty found that Social Security benefits kept nearly 26 million Americans out of poverty in 2014, while food stamps – the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – pulled 4.7 million Americans out of poverty. Unemployment insurance kept nearly 1 million people out of poverty.

Food stamps – the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – pulled 4.7 million Americans out of poverty in 2014.

Joan Entmacher, vice president for family economic security at the National Women’s Law Center, said the public programs helped alleviate hardship, “but by any measure, poverty rates are shamefully high for a nation as wealthy as ours. Today’s data should be a wakeup call to lawmakers to protect and strengthen policies and programs that help lift women and their families out of poverty and give them a chance at a better life.”

The wage stagnation and stubborn poverty are confounding holdovers from the Great Recession, which gripped the nation in late 2007 before officially ending in June 2009.

A check of real median household income over the past seven years finds that it was 6.5 percent lower in 2014 than in 2007, before the recession began. Even before the recession, worker earnings suffered in the nation’s weak labor market from 2000-2007.

A check of real median household income over the past seven years finds that it was 6.5 percent lower in 2014 than in 2007, before the recession began.

In fact, from 2000 to 2014, the median income for non-elderly households fell by $8,479, or 12.3 percent, the Economic Policy Institute reported.

And despite continued job gains, median household income for working-age Americans under 65 fell 1.3 percent, from $61,252 in 2013 to $60,462 last year.

The economic pain has hurt some more than others. For non-Hispanic white households, median income fell 5.6 percent from 2000 to 2013 and by 1.7 percent in 2014 to $60,256, the Economic Policy Institute reported.

Black households, meanwhile, saw their median income fall 13.8 percent from 2000 to 2013 and another 1.4 percent last year, to $35,398.

Hispanic households’ median income has fallen by 8.7 percent from 2000-2013. In 2014, however, it increased 5.3 percent to $42,491.

Females who worked full time, year-round had a median income of $39,621 in 2014, or 79 percent of the $50,383 that full-time male workers earned.

“Taken in combination with an increase of about 800,000 in the number of women with earnings, regardless of work experience, and no statistically significant change for their male counterparts, this suggests a shift of workers moving from part-year, part-time work status to full-time, year-round work status,” the Census Bureau reported.

Households in the West saw their median income fall 4.6 percent from 2013 to 2014. Median incomes in the North, South and East saw no statistically significant change.

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