The U.S. household income increased, but there is still much to do.

The data released by the Census Bureau in the income, poverty, and health insurance report on September 12 seem to portray a healthier U.S. economy.

In fact, the annual report shows that the median household income rose by 3.2% from $57,200 in 2015 to $59,039 in 2016, and that the percentage of people living in poverty decreased in 2016 by 0.8% from the rate registered in 2015. Additionally, the data reveal a drop in the percentage of people without health insurance coverage: the value registered in 2016 was 8.8%, 0.3% less than the value registered in 2015 (Reuters).

Overall the quality of life in the United States seems to be improving and this means that the growth that the country has seen since the recession in things like the stock market, is at least to a certain extent also starting to show in households (Marketplace). Yet, skepticism lingers over the data shown in the report.

Considering other measures could help to better understand why the U.S. still has much to do to repair its economy.

The report by the Census Bureau reveals that the income inequality rate is not decreasing: there are still huge divisions in incomes because of people’s gender, race and age. Moreover, inequality between Americans is growing (The New York Times).

In addition to income inequality, there is another measure that we should take into account: supplementary poverty. As pointed out by Forbes, unlike the poverty rate, supplementary poverty considers many of the government programs designed to assist low income families and individuals that are not included in the official poverty measure. Therefore, it shows that there are many families above the official poverty level that are actually receiving government aids.

This is one of the aspects that shows there are still many open questions about how economists should measure the poverty level and what values to take into account. Despite a rise in median household income, there are a lot of people who still feel «economic frustration», because there are different factors that influence people’s wages and economic opportunities, like for example the place where they live (Marketplace).

Beside these measures, also the number of health insurance coverages raises skepticism among the experts.

Even though the percentage of householders having insurance coverage increased, a breakdown of these data could reveal a different story.

If we look at people with income at or below the poverty level, we can see that 16.3% of them lack insurance coverage: «these are people who can least afford to take on medical debt» (Forbes). This percentage is quite remarkable when compared with the 4.6% of householders above the poverty level living without insurance coverage.

Despite these issues, it seems that the U.S. economy is improving overall. This element matters a lot, since President Donald Trump has announced that he wants to reform the current tax system and cut government spending. Democrats, considering the economic improvements shown in the Census Bureau’s report, «now have more ammunition to argue that the changes Mr. Trump seeks would mess with the success » (The New York Times).

The Federal Reserve is also paying close attention to the data released by the Census Bureau and to the current status of the U.S. economy. In fact, Janet L. Yellen, the Federal Reserve chairwoman, is expected to end the Fed’s lenient monetary policy in a meeting scheduled this week; the changes that will be following could affect the current improving U.S. economy.

Yet, whatever effect the new monetary policy will have on the economy, the increase in household income and the drop in the poverty rate is a reflection of the higher number of people back in the work force and of the 2.2 million of jobs added over the past year. The growth in the number of working people is «a vivid illustration of the old maxim that a job is the best antipoverty program » (The New York Times).

 

 

One Rate Does Not Make a Summer, But May Indicate a Mild Fall

It is almost the end of August and this summer seems to have brought positive news to both the U.S. and European markets. The latter especially may now breathe a sigh of relief since, as the Wall Street Journal reported on Aug. 24, 2017, even the weakest European economies such as the Greek, the Portuguese, and the Spanish have been showing growth over the last year. Along with them, the Italian economy seems to be enjoying a substantial reversal in its usual downward trend, as shown by the steady decrease of the unemployment rate released by Istat, the Italian National Institute of Statistics, on June 7.

These developments are being reported just as the Federal Reserve’s annual conference is taking place in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, where Mario Draghi, president of the European Central Bank, and Janet L. Yellen, the Federal Reserve chairwoman, will speak about the future of the European and U.S. monetary policies for the year to come. Their speeches will focus on whether the current lenient regulations will be removed.

The decision on this very hot topic—appropriate for the end of summer—might affect the improvements shown by the delicate economies of the Eurozone, such as Italy’s, which has been reinvigorated by the positive unemployment and employment figures released in June 2017.

Why do these rates matter? Even though they are mere numbers, they stand for people; people who have been struggling to find jobs. As reported by the Italian business newspaper Il Sole24ore,  the unemployment rate decreased 0.2 percent from May to June of 2017, and has settled at the level of fall 2012—when Italy reached its lowest unemployment rate. This news has created confidence among markets, entrepreneurs, and investors.

The recovery of Italy’s economy was also reported by Quartz and Bloomberg this month; these two media outlets showed that the Italian GDP increased by 0.4 percent in the last quarter, thanks to added value of manufacturing and services, as Lorenzo Totaro wrote on Aug. 16, 2017, on Bloomberg; this GDP increase reflects the larger number of employed people.

These indicators have also revealed another interesting aspect of the story: the employment rate of the female population has increased by 0.7 percent from June 2016 to June 2017, reaching the threshold of 48.8 percent. Women are more likely to be unemployed in Italy; this upturn signals a great change in the economy of the country.

In this scenario of mild recovery and optimism, the decision of whether to pull back the current stimulating monetary policy is very important for a country such as Italy, whose policies and efforts seem to be heading in the right direction. Certainly, as recently stated by Carlo Calenda, minister for economic development, and Ignazio Visco, governor of the Bank of Italy, the improvements observed through the lenses of economic indicators such as the GDP or the unemployment and employment rates do not mean that Italy has completely recovered from its financial crisis (Corriere della Sera, Aug. 24, 2017); the country still needs reforms to encourage business innovation, and support the work life of employees.

“For the first time in ten years all the major economies of the planet are growing,” (Marketplace, Aug. 24, 2017) and what might happen to Italy after the Federal Reserve’s annual conference concerns European countries as well as the U.S. We have to wait to see if this new wave of economic growth will be fostered and advanced by the new regulations that will be implemented by Mr. Draghi and Ms. Yellen at Jackson Hole. All we know now is that the enthusiasm about Italy’s steady growth is based on solid facts, and it is part of a remarkable turnover regarding the entire Eurozone.

Unemployment Rate Forecast; source: tradingeconomics.com/italy/unemployed-persons/forecast