Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Health Insurance Coverage Has Fallen

There is more bad news emerging from the 2007 Current Population Survey results. The percentage of people without health insurance climbed to 15.8 percent in 2006, up from 15.3 percent in 2005. The number of people without health insurance increased to 47 million, up by 2 million during the past year.

What explains the growing proportion of Americans without health insurance? Behind the increase is the loss of private, employment-based coverage, the foundation of our health insurance system. Only 59.7 percent of the population had employment-based health insurance in 2006, down from 64 percent a few years ago. Only 9 percent of Americans privately purchase health insurance, an all-time low. Medicaid (the government's health insurance program for the poor) covers 13 percent of the population, and Medicare (the government's health insurance program for the elderly) covers 14 percent.

The percentage of people without health insurance ranges from a low of 11 percent among non-Hispanic whites to a high of 34 percent among Hispanics. Among children under age 18, the percentage without health insurance climbed from 10.9 to 11.7 percent between 2005 and 2006. Perhaps most disturbing, the percentage of people aged 55 to 64 who do not have health insurance climbed to 12.7 percent in 2006. In this age group, health problems not only become more frequent, but also more costly.

The percentage of Americans without health insurance grew in every household income group, with middle-income households experiencing the biggest increase. Fourteen percent of Americans with household incomes between $50,000 and $74,999 do not have health insurance.

For more about health insurance coverage, see the Census Bureau report.

Earnings Are Down

This morning the Census Bureau released the latest report on the finances of American households—the results of the Current Population Survey's Annual Social and Economic Supplement. Taken every March, the Census Bureau releases the survey's findings at this time each year, tracking income, health insurance, and poverty trends. The findings might not attract as much media attention as the stock market's ups and downs, but they are probably a more important indicator of the health of the economy.

And it is not looking good. This year's results are disturbing. To find the trouble spots, you have to look beyond the headlines. Here is my analysis of the numbers.

Median household income in 2006 stood at $48,201, a 0.7 percent increase since 2005 after adjusting for inflation. This sounds good until you consider the following: The 2006 median is still 2.1 percent below the peak reached in 1999, after adjusting for inflation.

The number of households with incomes of $100,000 or more is at a record high. The share of households with six-figure incomes reached 19.1 percent in 2006. This sounds promising, but here's the hitch: Workers are losing ground. Household incomes are growing only because more people are working full-time. In fact, earnings are falling for American workers. The $42,261 median earnings of men working full-time in 2006 were 1.1 percent less than in 2005, after adjusting for inflation. Men's earnings today are 5 percent below their peak, reached decades ago in 1978. Women with full-time jobs are also losing ground. Their median earnings of $32,515 in 2006 were also 1 percent less than in 2005, after adjusting for inflation.

How could household incomes grow as earnings fall? This seeming contradiction is explained by the fact that the average household has more earners than ever before. Between 2005 and 2006, the number of households grew by 1.6 million, but the number of full-time workers expanded by nearly 3 million. Household incomes are rising because Americans are working harder to keep up with the rising cost of living.

For more about the latest income statistics, see the Census Bureau report.