U.S. sings ‘cha-ching’


Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON — Incomes rose across America in 1999 for an unprecedented fifth year and poverty dipped to its lowest level since 1979, the U.S. Census reported Tuesday.

Driven by strong economic growth in the South and the Midwest, median household earnings reached $40,800 — the highest level the Census has found since it first began collecting income statistics in 1967.

And poverty rates, driven down in the West and Northeast, fell for all racial and ethnic groups for the first time since the Census began collecting such data in 1969, settling at 11.9 percent overall.

In Washington state, the median household income in 1999 was $45,639. The poverty rate climbed slightly, from 9.1 in 1997-98 to 9.2 for 1998-99.

The annual Census reports on household income and poverty showed that the incomes of African American and Latino households — with median earnings of $27,910 and $30,735 respectively — were at historic highs. But they remained stubbornly below the $42,504 median income of non-Latino white households.

Asian and Pacific Islanders, with a median income of $51,200, saw income growth of 7.4 percent.

Even children, the Americans most likely to live in poverty, saw their economic lot improved in 1999. Some 12.1 million children were poor in 1999, down 1.4 million and two percentage points (to 16.9 percent) from the year before. The poverty rate among the elderly, meanwhile, dropped to an all-time low of 9.7 percent.

But one labor organization said that the latest Census figures reflect a nation of families putting in longer hours as much as it does an era of new job opportunities and wage hikes.

"Middle-income households are working more hours than ever to stay ahead," said Lawrence Mishel of the Economic Policy Institute, a labor-backed research organization in Washington.

Between 1989 and 1999, a typical married, middle-income couple with children added 279 hours — about seven weeks — of work a year. About 33 of those extra annual hours were added between 1998 and 1999, helping to drive the median income hikes seen in the Census Report, Mishel contended.

"That’s a ton of work, and the growth in hours explains most of the growth in income over this last decade," he added.

While Tuesday’s data suggested that economic well-being has improved across the spectrum of region, ethnicity and age, it highlighted troubling imbalances in two areas: between men and women and between haves and have-nots.

According to the Census, the median income earned by women in the full-time, year-round work force lost ground slightly in 1999, while men’s median income grew by 1 percent. That widened an already-yawning earnings gap between women and men. While full-time, year-round working women earned 73.2 cents to every dollar earned by men in 1998, the 1999 figure slipped to 72.2 cents.

Meanwhile, inequities in income remained a strong feature of the American economy. The Census found no significant change in the distribution of income among those up and down the economic ladder — either last year or in the last six years. The poorest 20 percent of Americans still receive 3.6 percent of all income distributed through the U.S. economy in a year.

By contrast, the richest 20 percent of Americans receive 49.4 percent — almost half — of all income the economy delivers annually.

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Local News

Snohomish residents Barbara Bailey, right, and Beth Jarvis sit on a gate atop a levee on Bailey’s property on Monday, May 13, 2024, at Bailey Farm in Snohomish, Washington. Bailey is concerned the expansion of nearby Harvey Field Airport will lead to levee failures during future flood events due to a reduction of space for floodwater to safely go. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Harvey Field seeks to reroute runway in floodplain, faces new pushback

Snohomish farmers and neighbors worry the project will be disruptive and worsen flooding. Ownership advised people to “read the science.”

Grayson Huff, left, a 4th grader at Pinewood Elementary, peeks around his sign during the Marysville School District budget presentation on Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2023 in Marysville, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
State OKs Marysville plan with schools, jobs on chopping block

The revised plan would mean the loss of dozens of jobs and two schools — still to be identified — in a school district staring down a budget crunch.

IAM District 751 machinists join the picket line to support Boeing firefighters during their lockout from the company on Thursday, May 16, 2024, in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Amid lockout, Boeing, union firefighters return to bargaining table

The firefighters and the planemaker held limited negotiations this week: They plan to meet again Monday, but a lockout continues.

The Trestle’s junction with I-5 is under evaluation (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Here’s your chance to give feedback on the US 2 trestle and its future

Often feel overwhelmed, vulnerable and on shaky ground? So is the trestle. A new $17 million study seeks solutions for the route east of Everett.

John Pederson lifts a flag in the air while himself and other maintenance crew set up flags for Memorial Day at Floral Hills Cemetery on Friday, May 24, 2024 in Lynnwood, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Volunteers place thousands of flags by veterans’ graves in Lynnwood

Ahead of Memorial Day, local veterans ensure fellow military service members are never forgotten.

Brian Hennessy leads a demonstration of equipment used in fire training at the Maritime Institute in Everett, Washington on Wednesday, May 22, 2024. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
‘Ready to go full sail’: Maritime Institute embarks at Port of Everett

The training facility offers Coast Guard-certified courses for recreational boaters and commerical vessel operators.

George Beard poses for a photo outside of the the Stanwood Library in Stanwood, Washington on Wednesday, May 8, 2024.  (Annie Barker / The Herald)
From sick to the streets: How an illness left a Stanwood man homeless

Medical bills wiped out George Beard’s savings. Left to heal in his car, he got sicker. Now, he’s desperate for housing. It could take years.

Logo for news use featuring Snohomish County, Washington. 220118
Lawsuit says Snohomish County deputies not justified in Sultan shooting

Two deputies repeatedly shot an unarmed Sultan man last year, body camera video shows. An internal investigation is pending.

An airplane is parked at Gate M9 on Tuesday, May 21, 2024 at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago, Illinois. (Jordan Hansen/The Herald)
Good luck to Memorial Day travelers: If you’re like me, you’ll need it

I spent a night in the Chicago airport. I wouldn’t recommend it — but with flight delays near an all-time high, you might want to pack a pillow.

Editorial cartoons for Friday, May 24

A sketchy look at the news of the day.… Continue reading

Cascade’s Mia Walker, right, cries and hugs teammate Allison Gehrig after beating Gig Harbor on Thursday, May 23, 2024 in Lacey, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Seniors Wilson, Tripp power Cascade softball past Gig Harbor

The pair combined for three homers as the Bruins won the Class 3A state softball opening-round game.

The original Mountlake Terrace City Council, Patricia Neibel bottom right, with city attorney, sign incorporation ordinance in 1954. (Photo provided by the City of Mountlake Terrace)
Patricia Neibel, last inaugural MLT council member, dies at 97

The first woman on the council lived by the motto, “Why not me?” — on the council, at a sheriff’s office in Florida, or at a leper colony in Thailand.

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.