by: John W. Schoen
The poor stayed poor and the rich got richer, but the middle slipped a few more rungs down the economic ladder.
More than five years after the Great Recession began, the lingering impact of the worst downturn in a half-century continues to deplete the standard of living of middle-class American households.
Median household income, after adjusting for inflation, fell 1.5 percent last year to $50,054, according to the Census Bureau's annual report on income and poverty issued released Wednesday. The poverty rate, at 15 percent, remained stuck at the highest level since 1993.
For Ray Bober, 45, of Pittsburgh, whose unemployment benefits ran out this year after a family printing business failed several years ago, the dismal economy takes a toll every time he sends out another resume that goes nowhere.
“You have to learn to roll with the punches and laugh a little; it’s very depressing,” he said. “It takes a toll, especially this long. You want to reach out and shake your fist in the air and blame someone, but you can’t. The way it is, is the way it is. There’s nothing you can do about it but stay in the fight."
For millions of middle-class American households, the fight began well before the Great Recession destroyed more than 8 million jobs, or even before the financial collapse in 2008 that gave birth to the downturn. Median household income, adjusted for inflation, has been dropping for 13 years.
The drop in income has been magnified by the persistent high unemployment, currently above 8 percent, which peaked at a monthly pace of more than 800,000 jobs shed in November 2008. On top of job growth that's been weaker than any recovery in a half-century, wages haven't budged since the recession ended.
Last year's drop in the median family household income has left income for those in the median 8.1 percent lower than in 2007, the year before the recession began, and 8.9 percent lower than the median peak in 1999.