Obama’s last year brought economic success

Counting the Cost

Julianne Malveaux | 10/18/2017, 8:34 p.m.

The income, poverty and health insurance data released by the Census Bureau on Sept. 13 confirm what many already knew. President Obama’s last year was one of economic improvement for many individuals.

The median income rose from $57,230 in 2015 to $59,039 in 2016, an increase of 3.2 percent. Black income rose 5.4 percent, from $37, 364 in 2015 to $39,400 in 2016, while White income rose from $63, 745 to $65,041, an increase of two percent.

The income gap narrowed very slightly, with African Americans having 58 percent of White earnings in 2015 and 60 percent of White earnings in 2016. This income ratio typically hovers around 60 percent, and this situation has not improved since 1967! Despite an absolute improvement in incomes, the racial income disparity remains.

Fewer than one in 10 Whites earned less than $15,000 per year, compared to 20 percent of African Americans at that low earning level. While 18 percent of Whites earned less than $25,000 a year, fully one-third of African Americans earned so little. At the same time, while 7.4 percent of Whites earned more than $200,000 a year, only 2.8 percent of African- Americans had similarly high earnings.

At the top, there was significant improvement for African Americans—we didn’t cross the 1 percent line on high earning until 1997, and now our percentage has more than doubled. Still, it would take hundreds of years, at the rate we are going, to close the gap with Whites.

With incomes as low as they are, it is unsurprising to find African Americans more heavily represented among the poor than Whites are; but again, President Obama’s last year in office saw a real drop in the poverty level. The poverty rate dropped from 13.5 percent in 2015 to 12.7 percent in 2016, and the Black poverty rate dropped from 24.1 percent to 22.0 percent. There were 800,000 fewer African Americans in poverty in 2016 than in 2015. That’s good news!

Child poverty was also overwhelming. With 15.1 percent of White children living in poverty there were nearly twice as many Black children living in poverty at 29.5 percent. Among elders, 8 percent of White seniors were poor, compared to 18.5 percent of African American seniors. And when Black women headed households, 34.2 percent of those households lived in poverty.

While these numbers make a clear case that President Obama improved the situation for all Americans, it is also clear that his unwillingness or inability to target programs toward the African American poor maintained the size of the income gap, and maintained the fact that African-Americans experience twice as much poverty as Whites, earning only 60 percent of the incomes that Whites do. This gap will not be closed unless there is some intervention, some form of reparations, or some special program that will empower African Americans. If that didn’t happen in the Obama administration, it is unlikely to happen in this one.

President Obama’s singular success, of course, was health care. More than 93 percent of Whites, 92 percent of Asian Americans, 89.5 percent of African-Americans and 84 percent of Hispanics had health care in 2016, continuing an upward trend that began in 2011 with the introduction of Obamacare. Of course, Republicans have promised to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act. They have been unsuccessful because so many use and like the program, even with it flaws. The program should be tweaked, but not replaced, but we’ll see what happens in coming months.