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Iowa incomes up, according to census data

Cathy Stiles, a volunteer from Wells Fargo, sorts and repacks donated snack items from local grocery stores at the River Bend Foodbank in Davenport on Thursday. Despite wages being up, poverty in Iowa remains in double digits, and one in five people misses meals. (Kevin Schmidt/Quad-City Times)
Cathy Stiles, a volunteer from Wells Fargo, sorts and repacks donated snack items from local grocery stores at the River Bend Foodbank in Davenport on Thursday. Despite wages being up, poverty in Iowa remains in double digits, and one in five people misses meals. (Kevin Schmidt/Quad-City Times)

Incomes crept upward in Iowa last year, while poverty fell, according to new government figures that reinforce a picture of an economy that’s improving.

The U.S. Census Bureau reported Thursday that median household income, a closely watched measure of well-being, rose in Iowa from $56,247 to $58,570 from 2016 to 2017.

That’s about a 1.9 percent increase on an inflation adjusted basis.

The unemployment rate across the country has been declining for months, and employers have complained of a shallow labor pool.

But neither of those things have led to the kind of wage and salary growth generally seen when the labor market improves.

But economists in the state said Thursday that while the growth was only modest, it is going in the right direction.

“In general, I think you’re beginning to see very tight labor markets begin to bid up wages,” said Peter Orazem, an economist at Iowa State University.

He and others say that additional people finding work and part-time workers adding hours are contributors to the increase in household incomes, too.

Dave Swenson, an economist at Iowa State University, noted there has been a decline in workers earning less than $10,000, indicating that more hours have become available for part-time laborers.

“Most of it is coming from hours,” he said.

Nationwide, household incomes grew 1.8 percent in 2017, though the rate of growth was slower than it was last year.

In Iowa, the growth rate was slightly higher.

Meanwhile, the poverty rate fell across Iowa, according to the new data. In 2017, the poverty rate in the state fell from to 10.7 percent from 11.8 percent, with about 326,000 Iowans falling below the poverty line.

The lower poverty rate is a good thing, but it shouldn’t be overstated, said Mike Owen, executive director of the Iowa Policy Project, which issues an annual report called, “The Cost of Living in Iowa,” which says federal poverty guidelines don’t accurately reflect what is needed to meet basic needs.

Meanwhile, the new government data showed a small rise in the share of Iowa’s population without health insurance last year, the first time that’s happened since the major provisions of the Affordable Care Act were implemented.

The government reported that 4.7 percent of Iowa’s population were uninsured last year, up from 4.3 percent the year before.

Despite being up, it’s still lower than in 2013, when 8.1 percent of the state’s population did not have insurance.

Iowa’s individual health insurance market has seen quite a bit of turmoil in the past year. Premiums skyrocketed, and 26,000 Iowans dropped out of the marketplace, according to the state insurance division.

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Changes at the state and federal levels are expected to provide people with lower cost options in 2019. However, critics say they don’t have the same protections as the plans that were offered under the Affordable Care Act.

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