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Census: Income Gains Uneven Across States, Racial and Ethnic Groups

Fewer Americans struggled to make ends meet in 2018, but progress on income growth was felt unevenly across states as well as racial and ethnic groups, new data from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey show. This drives home the need for states to advance policies that create broad prosperity and tear down barriers to economic opportunity.

Median household incomes rose in 26 states from 2016 to 2018, compared with 36 states from 2015 to 2017 and 46 states from 2014 to 2016. And income gains were uneven across racial and ethnic groups. From 2016 to 2018:

  • White, non-Hispanic median household incomes rose in 28 states;
  • Latinx household incomes rose in just 17 of the 42 states with reliable income data for such households (including Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico);
  • Black household incomes rose in just ten states and Washington, D.C. of the 39 states with reliable income data (including Puerto Rico);
  • Asian American household income rose in seven of the 34 the states (including Washington, D.C.) with reliable data; and
  • American Indian and Alaska Native household income rose in two of the 13 states with reliable data.

Non-white households have made some progress. Nationally, median income growth for households of color and American Indian and Alaska Native households over this two-year period was about equal to or higher than that for white households (except for Asian Americans, a racial category within which there’s dramatic variation in economic well-being). But that faster growth did not enable Black, Latinx, and American Indian and Alaska Native households to achieve parity with white households, whose gains built onto a base of much higher income.

Building strong, thriving communities in which every person can reach their potential and be free of economic struggle and hardship requires creating the conditions for widespread opportunity. States can provide for strong, equitably funded schools and high-quality health care. They can finance equity-oriented infrastructure projects like clean water systems that keep people healthy, well-maintained and modern school buildings that help kids learn, and widely accessible, rapid public transit that helps people get to work.

States must also actively undo barriers to a better life for Black, brown, and indigenous people who face continued bias and discrimination in the working world. They can do this by creating or expanding robust state earned income tax credits and minimum wages, providing access to affordable and quality child care, building more affordable housing, and enforcing labor laws and wage protections. States can pay for these needs by scrapping ineffective, special-interest tax breaks, incentives, and loopholes and asking the wealthiest to pay their fair share.