Obama raised all boats

9/22/2017, 11:14 p.m.
The income, poverty and health insurance data released by the U.S. Census Bureau on Sept. 13 confirm what many already ...
Julianne Malveaux

Julianne Malveaux

The income, poverty and health insurance data released by the U.S. Census Bureau on Sept. 13 confirm what many already knew — President Obama’s last year in office 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 Americans’ income rose 5.4 percent, from $37,364 in 2015 to $39,400 in 2016, while white Americans’ income rose from $63,745 to $65,041, an increase of 2 percent.  

The income gap narrowed very slightly, with African-Americans earning an average of 58 percent of white earners in 2015 and only 60 percent of white earners in 2016. Despite an absolute improvement in incomes, the racial income disparity remains.

Fewer than one in 10 white people earned less than $15,000 per year compared to 20 percent of African-Americans. While 18 percent of white people 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 white people earned more than $200,000 a year, only 2.8 percent of African-Americans had similarly high earnings.  

With incomes as low as they are, it is not surprising to find African-Americans more heavily represented among the poor than white people. But, again, President Obama’s last year in office saw a drop in the poverty level from 13.5 percent in 2015 to 12.7 percent in 2016. During that time, the poverty rate for African-Americans dropped from 24.1 percent to 22 percent, with 800,000 fewer African-Americans living in poverty.

Child poverty was 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 white people, earning only 60 percent of the incomes of white Americans. 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 under this one.

President Obama’s singular success was health care. More than 93 percent of white people, 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 people use and like the program, even with it flaws.

Despite improvements in income data, too many Americans aren’t feeling the improvements. That’s how 45 was able to manipulate people into believing that they were worse off than they had ever been, and that he was going to improve their quality of life. To be sure, while the unemployment rate is way down, there are also people sitting on the sidelines of the labor force.  

Knowing 45, he will crow about these numbers, though he truly cannot take any responsibility for them. This data is 2016 data, and the improvement here can be solely attributed to President Obama. The proof of 45’s pudding will come next year, when 2017 data are reported.  

Will we be better off with the repeal of the Affordable Care Act? Will incomes rise or fall under 45’s leadership? What will happen with poverty in an administration that has already taken actions to keep wages low? Will the Obama momentum come to a skidding halt because of 45’s policies?  We’ll have to wait and see, but it is clear that 45 has already taken too many steps in the wrong direction.

The writer is an economist, author and founder of Economic Education.