A lost decade

A LOST DECADE…. A couple of weeks ago, a discouraging mid-season budget review prompted conservatives to say the White House’s progressive agenda is “dead.” With that in mind, is it fair to say the Census Bureau’s annual report on income, poverty, and health insurance just brought it back?

In the recession last year, the nation’s poverty rate climbed to 13.2 percent, up from 12.5 percent in 2007, according to an annual report released Thursday by the Census Bureau.

This was the first significant increase in poverty since 2004. It also portends larger increases this year, as unemployment numbers have risen far more than in 2008, economists said. According to the census data, 39.8 million residents lived below the poverty line in 2008.

The data shows 46.3 million Americans went without health insurance last year. Just as important, median family incomes fell to $50,300. David Leonhardt put this in context:

The typical American household made less money last year than the typical household made a full decade ago.

To me, that’s the big news from the Census Bureau’s annual report on income, poverty and health insurance, which was released this morning. Median household fell to $50,303 last year, from $52,163 in 2007. In 1998, median income was $51,295. All these numbers are adjusted for inflation.

In the four decades that the Census Bureau has been tracking household income, there has never before been a full decade in which median income failed to rise. (The previous record was seven years, ending in 1985.) Other Census data suggest that it also never happened between the late 1940s and the late 1960s. So it doesn’t seem to have happened since at least the 1930s.

The economy simply didn’t function as it’s supposed to during the Bush era.

One other angle to keep in mind here is that these awful numbers point to the economy in 2008. While the current recession “officially” started in 2007, the economic collapse didn’t begin in earnest until last fall, and didn’t bottom out until 2009.

In other words, a year from now we’re likely to see a report that’s even more painful.