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Millions of Americans in poverty as Black, Native American wages stagnate

Millions of Americans in poverty as Black, Native American wages stagnate
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More than 42 million Americans live below the federal poverty line, a figure that is virtually equal to the number of people living in poverty a decade ago even as the economy has boomed, according to new data released Thursday by the U.S. Census Bureau.

The figures also show that the median income of Black households has increased only slightly in the same timeframe, while households headed by Native Americans and Alaska Natives remain virtually unchanged.

Across the nation, the median household income from 2015 to 2019 stood at $62,843, an increase of 2.3 percentage points from the decade prior. Non-Hispanic whites saw their median income increase to $68,785, up about three percentage points, while households headed by Asian Americans and Hispanic Americans notched larger gains of about 8 percent and 6 percent, respectively.

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But Black households saw their income increase just 1.9 percentage points, to $41,935. The median income of a household headed by those of American Indian or Alaska Natives grew by just 0.5 percentage points; adjusted for inflation, the median Native American household makes just $203 more today than they did a decade ago.

About 13.4 percent of Americans live below the federal poverty level, defined as an income of $26,200 per year for a family of four. That figure is statistically unchanged from the 13.5 percent who lived below the poverty level between 2005 and 2009 — though it is down substantially from the 15.6 percent who lived below poverty between 2010-2014, during the first years following the great recession.

Median household income rose by statistically significant margins in 33 states and the District of Columbia over the past decade, and nowhere more so than in the nation’s capital. The median household in Washington, D.C., made $86,240 per year, higher than any state and a 28 percent increase over the decade.

That trend is reflected in local figures, too. Ten of the 25 counties in the country with the highest median incomes are in the Washington metropolitan area, including the three counties or county equivalents with the highest income levels in the nation — Loudoun County, Falls Church city and Fairfax County, all in Virginia.

The median household in Loudoun County pulled in $142,299 a year, the Census Bureau found, nearly seven times the income of the county with the lowest median income in the United States, Holmes County, Miss.

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The remaining wealthiest counties are largely centered around major technology hubs in California, wealthy commuter suburbs of New York City and vacation spots like Nantucket in Massachusetts.

The poorest counties in America are largely concentrated in the Appalachian Mountains, across the Southern Black Belt and in parts of the Dakotas and the Mountain West where Tribal nations are based.

The last decade has been particularly good to energy producing states like North Dakota, where the median income grew 20 percent in the midst of a fracking boom, and in South Dakota and Texas, where median income jumped more than 7 percent. Colorado, Nebraska, Oregon, Tennessee and Washington all saw jumps of more than 7 percent.

The median income declined by more than 9 percent in Nevada over the past ten years. Wages also dropped significantly in Arizona, Connecticut, Florida, Louisiana, Michigan and New Mexico.