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US Median Income Hits a Record High – Sort Of

Michael Rainey, Yuval Rosenberg

When is a record not a record? Median household income reached a new nominal high of $61,372 in 2017, up from $60,309 in 2016, the Census Bureau said Wednesday. But the agency also warned that a technical adjustment made starting with 2013 data meant that the 2017 numbers are statistically the same as median household income figures for 1999 and 2007.

Applying the new measure, discussed here, to previous years and adjusting for inflation produces these statistically equivalent peaks for median income:

  • 2017: $61,372
  • 2007: $61,421
  • 1999: $61,966


While the increase in median pay since 2013 is certainly good news, the report highlights the lack of economic progress for millions of American workers over the last two decades. “The numbers released on Wednesday show that the American middle class suffered a ‘lost decade’ in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, as median household income fell sharply, and then began a slow recovery,” wrote Binyamin Appelbaum and Robert Pear of The New York Times.

The Census report also shows that wages are actually lower for some key demographic groups. Men working full time saw a 1.1 percent drop in their median annual earnings in 2017 and are still earning less at the median than they did in 2007 and 2000. Women working full time also saw a 1.1 percent drop in their real wages at the median in 2017 but are now earning more than they did in 2007 and 2000.

Read the full Census report here. For a good summary, see the Economic Policy Institute’s “By the Numbers: Income and Poverty, 2017.” 

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