Even as the economy shows signs of improvement and poverty levels off, new U.S. census data suggests the gains are halting and uneven. Depending on education, race, income and even marriage, not all segments of the population are seeing an economic turnaround.
Poverty is on the rise in single-mother families. More people are falling into the lowest-income group. And after earlier signs of increased mobility, fewer people are moving as homeownership declined for a fifth straight year.
“We’re in a selective recovery,” said William H. Frey, a Brookings Institution demographer who analyzed the numbers.
The annual U.S. survey of socioeconomic indicators covers all of last year, representing the third year of a postrecession rebound.
The figures, released Thursday, also show a slightly faster pace of growth in the foreign-born population, which increased to 40.8 million, or 13 percent of the U.S. Last year’s immigration increase of 440,000 people was a reversal of a 2011 dip in the influx, when many Mexicans already in the U.S. opted to return home.
Many of the newer immigrants are now higher-skilled workers from Asian countries such as China and India. The number of immigrants in the U.S. with less than a high school diploma, who make up the bulk of the total foreign-born population, fell slightly in 2012, to 10.8 million. Immigrants with bachelor’s degrees or higher rose by more than 4 percent, to 9.8 million.
In all, 21 states saw declines last year in their Hispanic foreign-born population, led by New Mexico, Illinois and Georgia.
The number of Americans in poverty remained largely unchanged at a record 46.5 million. Single-mother families in poverty increased for the fourth straight year, to 4.1 million, or 41.5 percent, coinciding with longer-term trends of declining marriage and out-of-wedlock births. Many of these mothers are low income with low education. The share of married-couple families in poverty remained unchanged at 2.1 million, or 8.7 percent.
By race or ethnicity, a growing proportion of poor children are Hispanic, a record 37 percent of the total. Whites make up 30 percent, blacks 26 percent.
Nearly 2.2 million children were poor in California last year, the most of any state, but the child poverty rate was highest in Mississippi, where more than 1 in 3 children was poor. Nationwide, child poverty stood at 21.8 percent, unchanged from the previous year.
“Stubbornly high child poverty rates in the wake of the Great Recession suggest we have not yet turned the corner three years after its official end,” said Marybeth Mattingly, director of research on vulnerable families at the University of New Hampshire’s Carsey Institute.
The numbers also reflect widening economic inequality, an issue President Barack Obama has pledged would be a top priority of his administration to address. Upward mobility in the U.S. has been hurt by a tight job market and the longer-term disappearance of midskill jobs due to globalization and automation.
The new census data shows that lower-income households are a steadily increasing share of the population, while middle- to higher-income groups shrank or were flat.
In 2012, households earning less than $24,999 made up 24.4 percent of total households, up from 21.7 percent four years earlier. The share of households earning $50,000 to $99,999 slipped from 31.2 percent to 29.9 percent. Top-income households making more than $200,000 dipped less, from 5 percent to 4.6 percent over that period.
The still-weak economy also meant fewer household moves in 2012.
After showing signs of increased migration in 2011, fewer Americans were on the move, many because of few job opportunities or the inability to buy a home.