off the charts

5 Takeaways From Last Week’s Figures on Poverty, Inequality, and Health Coverage

Here are five key findings from our analyses (here and here) and blog posts on the new figures from the Census Bureau and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
  1. While poverty and median income improved last year for families with children,poverty rates reached record highs for childless families and individuals.  The poverty rate for individuals not living in families (people living alone or only with non-relatives) rose to 23.3 percent in 2013, the highest in over 30 years.  The poverty rate for childless families (childless couples, older couples or other families whose children have moved away or turned 18, and other relatives who live together), while much lower at 6.2 percent, was also the highest in over three decades.
  1. Income inequality remained historically high.  The share of the nation’s income going to the bottom fifth of households remained at 3.2 percent, tied for the lowest level on record with data back to 1967.  The ratio of the median income of the top fifth of households to that of the bottom fifth topped 12 to 1 for the first time on record, with data back to 1967.
  1. Austerity policies limited progress on jobs, income, and poverty.  Instead of responding to continued weak job growth by creating jobs (such as by expanding infrastructure investments), policymakers adopted various austerity policies that constrained consumer spending and employment growth.  Sequestration budget cuts, for example, lowered appropriations for most discretionary programs by 5 to 8 percent in 2013.  Policymakers also allowed a payroll tax holiday to expire after December 2012 and allowed tax cuts for very high-income individuals to expire (though the latter mattered less for consumer demand since high-income people’s spending is less sensitive to tax changes).  The Congressional Budget Office projected in early 2013 that these measures would reduce economic growth over the year by about 1½ percentage points and lower employment by more than 1 million jobs.
  1. The uninsured rate fell slightly last year and is falling further in 2014, as health reform’s major coverage expansions take effect.  The share of Americans without health coverage fell from 14.8 percent to 14.5 percent in 2013, according to Census’ American Community Survey.  And preliminary data from CDC — the first government survey data that reflect the early impact of the coverage expansions (the Medicaid expansion and subsidized marketplace coverage) — show that the number of uninsured fell by 3.8 million in the first quarter of 2014.
  1. The coverage gap between states that have expanded Medicaid and states that haven’t is widening.  In 2013,before the expansion took effect, some 14.1 percent of the people in the 27 expansion states (including Washington, D.C.) were uninsured, compared to 17.3 percent in the 24 non-expansion states.  Figures for the first part of 2014 show the gap is widening.  For example, CDC data show that 15.7 percent of non-elderly adults in expansion states were uninsured in the first quarter of 2014, compared to 21.5 percent for non-expansion states (see graph).