US poverty rate fell to 10.5 percent in 2019, marking fifth straight annual decline

US poverty rate fell to 10.5 percent in 2019, marking fifth straight annual decline
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The official U.S. poverty rate fell in 2019 for the fifth consecutive year, according to a report from the Census Bureau and Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released Tuesday.

The U.S. poverty rate fell to 10.5 percent last year, according to the 2020 Current Population Survey Annual Social and Economic Supplement, dropping 1.3 percentage points from 2018’s poverty rate of 11.8 percent. The 2019 poverty rate is the lowest recorded since government estimates began in 1959. 

The number of Americans in poverty also fell by 4.2 million in 2019 to a total of 34 million, according to the survey, and median household income rose by 6.8 percent from 2018 to $68,703 in 2019. The number of Americans working full time in 2019 increased by 1.2 million.

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The report is the latest window into the record-breaking economic expansion that preceded the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent recession. The U.S. gained roughly 22 million jobs in more than a decade of recovery from the 2008 recession and saw the unemployment rate drop to a 50-year low of 3.5 percent in December 2019.

While the U.S. appeared poised to pile onto those gains in 2020, the onset of the coronavirus pandemic earlier this year wiped out nearly all of the jobs added since the Great Recession and sent the unemployment rate skyrocketing to a post-Depression high of 14.7 percent.

The emergence of the coronavirus pandemic also posed serious challenges to collecting data for the Census Bureau and BLS report. Coronavirus-related restrictions forced Census and BLS staffers conducting surveys to do so exclusively through phone calls in March and April.

The impact of the pandemic reduced the response rate to the 2019 survey by 10 percent from 2018, and those who responded “had relatively higher income and were more educated than nonrespondents,” according to the agencies. That could potentially skew the report in a more positive light as potential respondents with lower income and education attainment were left out of the picture.