What do you think? Leave a respectful comment.

The U.S. just got a big pay raise. Why don’t we feel it?

It’s a major issue on the campaign trail: American angst about jobs and wages. New census data from last year shows that for the first time in almost a decade, household incomes in the U.S. have gone up and the poverty rate has gone down. Lisa Desjardins takes a look at those numbers and at why many Americans feel like they are inconsistent with their experiences.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Gwen Ifill:

    This campaign has often focused on the question of economic growth, jobs and wages, particularly for the middle class.

    Well, today, there was some good news on that front, as well as for lower-income households.

    Lisa Desjardins looks at those latest numbers, and why so many Americans say they don’t square with their own experiences.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    It is a triple hit of good economic news. New census data showed that, last year, median income rose 5.2 percent, the number of Americans living in poverty shrank by 3.5 million people, and the percentage of uninsured Americans dropped.

    President Obama, campaigning for Hillary Clinton in Pennsylvania, crowed.

  • President Barack Obama:

    It’s important just to understand this is a big deal. More Americans are working, more have health insurance, incomes are rising, poverty is falling.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    But behind each of these numbers, there is more going on. Let’s start with paychecks.

    That increase is historic, the largest percentage jump in at least five decades, and median incomes rose for every age group. Now, plenty of folks may say, wait a second, it definitely doesn’t feel like I got a big pay raise.

    And they have a point. Median income in America started plummeting in 2008. Then, as we learned today, median income rose last year, by $2,800. The problem? That is still below what Americans were making in 2007. This economic angst is a driving force on the campaign trail.

  • Hillary Clinton (d),

    Presidential Nominee: Inequality is too high, wages are too low, it is still too hard for too many to get ahead.

  • Donald Trump (r),

    Presidential Nominee: But what has happened is, we have people in the audience, in 18 years, they’re making less money now than they made 18 years ago, in real wages, 18. And in many cases, they’re working two and three jobs.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    The two candidates have spent less time focused on another number out today, the poverty rate. It fell, from over 10 percent to about 9 percent. That’s the biggest drop since at least the 1960s.

    Even so, 43 million Americans remain in poverty, and, disproportionately, those Americans are blacks, Hispanics and children of all races.

    Now to the third figure out today: health insurance. Obamacare is clearly covering more people. Four million more Americans were covered last year and more than 90 percent of all documented Americans were insured. But Obamacare raises other concerns.

    A lot of people, 29 million, still have no insurance. For those who are on Obamacare exchanges, premiums, out-of-pocket costs, they are rising. And their choices are shrinking. Forecasts estimate that in a third of all U.S. counties, the exchange will offer just a single insurer to choose from.

    So, for Americans, a day of historic bright news, but after climbing out of a long recession and while grappling with still unsolved issues like income inequality, they may not feel the sunshine yet.

    For the “PBS NewsHour,” I’m Lisa Desjardins.

Listen to this Segment

Latest News