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US incomes rose but inequality widened in 2017: data

[WASHINGTON The median US household income rose for a third straight year in 2017 to the highest on record since 1967 by one measure, but the gap between white- and non-white households widened, government data showed on Wednesday.

The Census Bureau said in its Income, Poverty and Health Insurance Coverage and Supplemental Poverty Measure report that median household incomes increased 1.8 percent to $61,400 last year.

"Without adjusting for the change in the income questions, 2017 has the highest median household income on record since 1967," said Jonathan Rothbaum, chief of income statistics at the Census Bureau. "When you adjust for the change, median household income in previous years was just as high."

But while the median household income for white, non-Hispanic households rose 2.6 per cent to US$68,145 in 2017 and rose 3.7 per cent to US$50,486 for Hispanic households, it fell 0.2 percent to US$40,258 for African-American households.

The report showed that the poverty rate — the percentage of people living in poverty — fell to 12.3 per cent last year from 12.7 per cent in 2016. The Census Bureau also said about 28.5 million residents did not have health insurance in 2017, not statistically different from the previous year.

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"While any reduction in poverty or increase in income is a step in the right direction, most families have just barely made up the ground lost over the past decade," said Elise Gould, senior economist at the Washington-based Economic Policy Institute.

"In 2015 and 2016, income growth was stronger and broad-based, with growth for low- and middle-income households tracking overall growth. In 2017, however, well-worn patterns of inequality reemerged, with stronger growth at the top than for typical households," Ms Gould added.

The Census report showed the poverty threshold in 2017 was an income of US$24,858 for a family of four.

Analysts say this number shows a trend of declining poverty that has persisted since 2014 under the tenure of former President Barack Obama.

The jump in overall income in Wednesday's report showcases the US economy's recovery from the 2007-09 recession that was felt by many American households in 2017, largely driven by a robust labor market.

"The equity markets and overall industry sentiment have picked up during President Trump's tenure, but he did inherit a relatively downward trend on the unemployment and income rates, among other metrics like poverty," said Chris Christopher, executive director of consumer economics at IHS Markit in St. Louis, Missouri.

The economy added 2.2 million jobs in 2017, with the unemployment ending the year at 4.1 per cent. The unemployment rate has since declined to a near 18-year low of 3.9 per cent and the economy continued to churn out jobs. 


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