News from the Census: More people have health coverage, poverty rate unchanged and policy choices lift millions out of poverty

Census data released today gives us a bird’s eye view of America, allowing us to see a country where many families are still struggling despite the economic recovery. The new data demonstrate how federal policies knock down barriers to affordable health coverage and allow more families to make ends meet. From this vantage point, it’s clear we should strengthen these successful policies so that more Americans can share in the economic recovery.

Today’s data show that in 2014, 47 million Americans were still struggling to put food on the table and a roof over their heads. That’s reflected in an official poverty rate of 14.8 percent, which is unchanged from 2013. For a family of four, the official poverty line is currently $24,250. Nationally, the $53,700 median household income remained essentially unchanged for the third year in a row, further driving home that many families are still treading water.

This new information also shows that specific policies lifted millions of Americans out of poverty. These policies, such as federal food and housing assistance and the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), make the difference in whether or not a family is forced to choose between paying their rent or sending their kids to bed hungry.

For example, the EITC and the refundable Child Tax Credit boost the incomes of about 10 million families so that they can meet their basic needs. Legislation passed in 2008 and 2009 made sure the Child Tax Credit reaches parents working at low wages, and that the EITC works better for married couples and larger families. Those improvements are set to expire, and Congress should act to make them permanent.

Policymakers should also expand the EITC for low-wage workers without eligible children, who are the only group pushed deeper into poverty by the federal tax code. We can do more to help working families climb the economic ladder right here in Minnesota by expanding our own version of the EITC, the Working Family Credit.

This Census information is the first since the Affordable Care Act rolled out some major health coverage expansions in January 2014, and we now have evidence that these policy changes eliminated some of the barriers to health care coverage. Nationally, the percentage of people without health care coverage dropped from 14.5 percent in 2013 to 11.7 percent in 2014. That means 8.5 million more people had health insurance. Those states that saw the largest drops in uninsurance rates among non-elderly adults were those that expanded Medicaid, like Minnesota.

Minnesota continues to be a national leader on health coverage. The Census data show that 5.9 percent of Minnesotans lacked health insurance in 2014, down from 8.2 percent in 2013. That makes us fifth best in the nation in health care coverage. If we’re going to remain among the leaders, we must maintain MinnesotaCare, our innovative, homegrown approach to affordable health insurance for more than 100,000 working Minnesotans.

The Census data affirm what many of us see in our jobs and communities. While the economic news mostly brightened over the past year, many of our neighbors are still living from paycheck to paycheck.

Stay tuned for more Minnesota-specific information tomorrow when the Census releases state-level data on income and poverty, including important information about whether the economic recovery is reaching all Minnesotans.

-Ben Horowitz

About Ben Horowitz

Ben Horowitz is the Minnesota Budget Project's policy advocate.
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