Racial disparities in income and poverty remain largely unchanged amid strong income growth in 2019

The Census Bureau report on income, poverty, and health insurance coverage in 2019 reveals impressive growth in median household income relative to 2018 across all racial and ethnic groups, but income gaps persist. While the Census cautions that the 2019 income estimates may be overstated due to a decline in response rates for the survey administered in March of this year, real median household income increased 10.6% among Asian households (from $88,774 to $98,174), 8.5% among Black households (from $42,447 to $46,073), 7.1% among Hispanic households (from $52,382 to $56,113), and 5.7% among non-Hispanic white households (from $71,922 to $76,057), as seen in Figure A.

In 2019, the median Black household earned just 61 cents for every dollar of income the median white household earned (up from 59 cents in 2018), while the median Hispanic household earned 74 cents (unchanged from 2018).

Figure A

Real median household income by race and ethnicity, 2000–2019

Year White Black Hispanic Asian White-imputed Black-imputed Hispanic-imputed Asian-imputed White Black Hispanic Asian White Black Hispanic Asian
2000 $67,920 $44,166 $49,378 $70,321 $45,422 $47,841
2001 $67,027 $42,658 $48,586 $69,396 $43,871 $47,073
2002 $66,835 $41,579 $47,174 $74,995 $69,197 $42,761 $45,705 $80,941
2003 $66,573 $41,369 $45,978 $77,612 $68,926 $42,545 $44,546 $83,765
2004 $66,359 $41,022 $46,497 $78,019 $68,704 $42,188 $45,049 $84,205
2005 $66,644 $40,621 $47,200 $80,174 $69,000 $41,776 $43,846 $86,530
2006 $66,635 $40,843 $48,023 $81,653 $68,990 $42,004 $46,528 $88,127
2007 $67,884 $42,138 $47,809 $81,706 $70,283 $43,336 $46,320 $88,184
2008 $66,099 $40,882 $45,129 $78,129 $68,435 $42,044 $43,724 $84,323
2009 $65,053 $39,119 $45,437 $78,201 $67,352 $40,231 $44,022 $84,401
2010 $63,996 $37,786 $44,220 $75,510 $66,258 $38,860 $42,843 $81,497
2011 $63,124 $36,871 $44,000 $74,194 $65,355 $37,919 $42,630 $80,076
2012 $63,597 $37,614 $43,512 $76,567 $65,845 $38,684 $42,157 $82,637
2013 $64,054 $38,227 $45,029 $73,723 $66,318 $39,314 $43,627 $79,568 $66,318 $39,314 $43,627 $79,568
2014 $65,135 $38,540 $45,931 $80,312 $65,135 $38,540 $45,931 $80,312
2015 $67,930 $40,155 $48,719 $83,270 $67,930 $40,155 $48,719 $83,270
2016 $69,292 $42,684 $50,791 $86,754 $69,292 $42,684 $50,791 $86,754
2017 $71,117 $41,705 $52,321 $84,823 $71,017 $42,337 $52,654 $84,823 $71,117 $41,705 $52,321 $84,887
2018 $71,922 $42,447 $52,382 $88,774
2019 $76,057 $46,073 $56,113 $98,174
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Note: Because of a redesign in the CPS ASEC income questions in 2013, we imputed the historical series using the ratio of the old and new method in 2013. Solid lines are actual CPS ASEC data; dashed lines denote historical values imputed by applying the new methodology to past income trends. The break in the series in 2017 represents data from both the legacy CPS ASEC processing system and the updated CPS ASEC processing system. White refers to non-Hispanic whites, black refers to blacks alone or in combination, Asian refers to Asians alone, and Hispanic refers to Hispanics of any race. Comparable data are not available prior to 2002 for Asians. Shaded areas denote recessions.

Source: EPI analysis of Current Population Survey Annual Social and Economic Supplement Historical Poverty Tables (Table H-5 and H-9)

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Based on EPI’s imputed historical income values (see the note under Figure A for an explanation), African American households finally surpassed their pre-recession median income 12 years after the start of the Great Recession in 2007—the last racial group to do so. Compared with household incomes in 2007, median household incomes in 2019 were up 21.1% for Hispanic households, 11.3% for Asian households, 8.2% for non-Hispanic white households, and 6.3% for African American households. Unfortunately, this recovery of income has been cut short by massive job losses, particularly among Black and Hispanic workers, during the current pandemic and recession.

The 2019 poverty rates also reflect the strong income growth between 2018 and 2019, though the Census also cautions that the poverty estimates may be understated due to a decline in response rates. As seen in Figure B, poverty rates for all groups were down, but remained highest among African Americans (18.7%, down 2.0 percentage points), followed by Hispanics (15.7%, down 1.9 percentage points), Asians (7.3%, down 2.8 percentage points), and whites (7.3%, down 0.8 percentage points). African American and Hispanic children continued to face the highest poverty rates—more than one-quarter (25.6%) of African Americans and more than one-fifth (20.9%) of Hispanics under age 18 lived below the poverty level in 2019. African American children were more than three times as likely to be in poverty as white children (8.3%).

Figure B

Overall poverty rate and poverty rate of those under age 18, by race and ethnicity, 2013–2019

Overall 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019
White 10.0% 10.1% 9.1% 8.8% 8.5% 8.1% 7.3%
Black 25.3% 26.0% 23.9% 21.8% 21.7% 20.7% 18.7%
Hispanic 24.7% 23.6% 21.4% 19.4% 18.3% 17.6% 15.7%
Asian 13.1% 12.0% 11.4% 10.1% 9.7% 10.1% 7.3%
White 13.4% 12.3% 12.1% 10.8% 10.2% 8.9% 8.3%
Black 33.4% 36.0% 31.6% 29.7% 29.7% 28.5% 25.6%
Hispanic 33.0% 31.9% 28.9% 26.6% 25.0% 23.7% 20.9%
Asian 14.7% 14.0% 12.3% 11.1% 10.4% 11.3% 7.3%
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Note: White refers to non-Hispanic whites, black refers to blacks alone, Asian refers to Asians alone, and Hispanic refers to Hispanics of any race.

Source: Current Population Survey Annual Social and Economic Supplement Historical Poverty Tables (Table 3)

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The Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM), an alternative to the long-running official poverty measure, provides an even more accurate measure of a household’s economic vulnerability. While the official poverty rate captures only before-tax cash income, the SPM accounts for various noncash benefits and tax credits. The SPM also allows for geographic variability in what constitutes poverty based on differences in the cost of living. According to the 2019 SPM, the official poverty measure understates poverty among Hispanics (the 2019 SPM rate is 18.9% vs. 15.7% by the official poverty measure), Asians (11.7% vs. 7.3%), and non-Hispanic whites (8.2% vs. 7.3%), while the measures produce relatively similar rates for African Americans (18.3% vs. 18.7%).