WASHINGTON >> In a stark reminder of the damage done by the Great Recession and of the modest recovery that followed, the median American household last year finally earned more than it did in 1999.
Incomes for a typical U.S. household, adjusted for inflation, rose 3.2 percent from 2015 to 2016 to $59,039, the Census Bureau said. The median is the point at which half the households fall below and half are above.
Last year’s figure is slightly above the previous peak of $58,665, reached in 1999. It is also the first time since the recession ended in 2009 that the typical household earned more than it did in 2007, when the recession began.
Trudi Renwick, the bureau’s assistant division chief, cautioned that the census in 2013 changed how it asks households about income, making historical comparisons less than precise.
Still, the Census data is closely watched because of its comprehensive nature. It is based on interviews with 70,000 households and includes detailed data on incomes and poverty across a range of demographic groups.
The median U.S. income has now posted solid gains for two straight years. Yet that growth came after a steep recession and a slow recovery that left most American households with only meager pay increases. The lack of meaningful raises has left many people feeling left behind economically, a sentiment that factored into the 2016 elections.
The Census report covers 2016, the last year of the Obama administration.
The income gains reflect mostly a rise in the number of Americans with jobs and in people working full time, the agency said. About 1.2 million more Americans earned income in 2016 than in 2015, and 2.2 million more had full-time year-round jobs.
The improved incomes have been widely shared. African-American median household income jumped 5.7 percent to $39,490 year over year. Among, Latinos it rose to 4.3 percent to $47,675. For whites, the gain was 2 percent to $65,041.
Asian-Americans reported the highest household incomes, at $81,431, which was little changed from 2015.
Other measures of Americans’ economic health also improved. The poverty rate fell last year to 12.7 percent from 13.5 percent, Census said. The number of people living below the poverty line dropped 2.5 million to 40.6 million.
And the proportion of Americans without health insurance declined to 8.8 percent, the report showed, down from 9.1 percent.
The report found that the gender gap in wages narrowed last year for the first time since 2007. Women earned 80.5 percent of men’s earnings, up from 79.6 percent in 2015.