Census: Poverty rate has first decline in 7 years

The U.S. poverty rate declined slightly in 2013 for the first time in seven years, according to a government report Tuesday, though household wages still average lower than before the financial downturn.

The Census Bureau reported that the nation’s poverty rate now stands at 14.5 percent, down a touch from the 15 percent recorded in 2012. In addition, the number of children living in poverty was also down slightly for the first time since 2000.

In 2013, the government determined that a family of four would be considered living in poverty if they made less than $23,834.

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While there was overall positive news on the state of poverty in the U.S., it was heavily tempered by lingering signs that large swaths of the American population are still struggling in the wake of the financial crisis and recession.

The overall poverty rate fell, but the total number of Americans living in poverty remained roughly the same, around 45.3 million people. Furthermore, the median household wage was basically unchanged in 2013, climbing just $180 to $51,939.

Stagnant wage growth has been a persistent problem for most middle-class Americans since the downturn. The frozen wages experienced in 2013 come after a similar flat year in 2012, and that was preceded by two years of wages falling.

Household incomes now stand roughly 8 percent lower than they were in 2007, before the crisis hit.

The report’s findings come as the issue of economic inequality has become a major political theme for Democrats ahead of the midterm election. President Obama and Democrats have pushed several policy changes intended to boost the working class, such as increasing the minimum wage and establishing an equal pay law for women.

However, the effects of those efforts have been more political than practical, as the initiatives stalled in Congress amid Republican opposition.

The White House was quick to highlight the progress made against poverty in the latest report, adding that those gains likely continued in 2014, as economic data for the current year has been solid. The administration noted that 2013 included the sharpest drop in child poverty since 1966, and that women now earned 78 percent as much as men, a new all-time high.

However, that enthusiasm was tempered by ongoing economic struggles in the middle and lower classes, which the administration argued was a clear sign to enact their policy initiatives.

The new data found that income inequality continues to exist in the U.S., but it is not growing especially fast. 

The Gini index, an economic tool used to measure income inequality, was statistically unchanged in 2013. However, the index is up 4.9 percent from 1993, the first year the government measured inequality in such a manner.

Tuesday’s report also found a continued wide discrepancy among ethnic groups, when it comes to household income. Asians were, by far, the most well-off ethnic group, earning a median household income of $67,065. Non-Hispanic whites made a median income of $58,270, while Hispanics and blacks were significantly below the overall median, bringing home just $40,963 and $34,598, respectively.

This post updated at 12:22pm.