Unexpectedly Intriguing!
27 September 2022

The U.S. Census Bureau has released its annual estimate of the median income earned by the United States 131,202,000 households in 2021. At $70,784, the annual income earned by a typical American household increased by $2,774 (or 4.1%) from 2020 to 2021. Adjusted for President Biden's inflation however, real median household income fell by $402 year-over-year from 2020 in terms of constant 2021 U.S. dollars.

We've added the U.S. Census Bureau's annual data to our chart comparing the various available sources for U.S. median household income data that track this demographic characteristic on a monthly basis. The updated chart compares their nominal, noninflation-adjusted estimates over the period they overlap from January 2006 through July 2022.

Comparing U.S. Median Household Income Estimates, January 2006 - July 2022

In incorporating the U.S. Census Bureau's annual data in this chart, we've annotated the anomaly for 2019's median household estimate. Here, the Census Bureau's median household income estimate for 2019 was greatly impacted by the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic in March 2020, coinciding with the period in which it surveyed U.S. households about the income they earned in 2019. Lockdown measures imposed by several state goverments, including the high population states of California and New York, blocked the Census Bureau from successfully collecting as much data as they intended, particularly from lower-income earning households. In a working paper, Census Bureau analysts confirm the coronavirus pandemic reduced the number of responses to the Annual Social and Economic Survey used to collect household income data, which they believe biased the median household income figure upward by 2.8%. Our chart shows both the Census Bureau's reported figure of $68,703 and indicates the adjusted figure of $66,779 for that year.

Comparing the Census Bureau's annual estimates with the monthly estimates, we find that all these estimates range within a few percent of each other from January 2006 through October 2018. After that point, there's a major divergence between the Atlanta Fed's estimates and the others, where we continue to note the following three differences:

  1. The Atlanta Fed's estimates understate the rising trend for median household income observed in 2019.
  2. They also completely miss the impact and recovery from the coronavirus recession in 2020.
  3. They significantly understate the robust growth in median household income we've observed since March 2021.

That difference, particularly with the U.S. Census Bureau's annual data, is growing much more substantial as time passes.

Political Calculations' estimates of median household income generally tracks with Sentier Research's estimates up through the period where they terminate in December 2019. The analysts who founded Sentier Research after retiring from the U.S. Census Bureau went on to permanently retire in 2020. Sentier Research is no longer an operating entity.

For the latest in our coverage of median household income in the United States, follow this link!

The Bureau of Economic Analysis will soon be releasing a major revision of its historic income data. Since Political Calculations uses this data in generating its monthly household income estimates, the chart above represents a snapshot of our estimates compared with other sources "before" the revised data becomes available.

References

Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta. Home Ownership Affordability Monitor (U.S. Census Bureau American Community Survey One-Year Estimates of Median Household Income, Projected to Indicated Month by Atlanta Fed Staff using additional data produced by the Current Population Survey and Decennial Census). [Online Database]. Accessed 23 September 2022.

Sentier Research. Household Income Trends: January 2000 through December 2019.  [Excel Spreadsheet with Nominal Median Household Incomes for January 2000 through January 2013 courtesy of Doug Short]. [PDF Document]. Accessed 6 February 2020. [Note: We've converted all data to be in terms of current (nominal) U.S. dollars.] Note: Sentier Research is no longer an operating entity, we've linked to the Internet Archive's copy of this final report.

Political Calculations. Median Household Income in July 2022. [Online Article]. 1 September 2022.

U.S. Census Bureau. Historical Income Tables: Households. Table H-5. Race and Hispanic Origin of Householder -- Households by Median and Mean Income. [Excel Spreadsheet]. 13 September 2022.

Jonathan Rothbaum and Adam Bee. Coronavirus Infects Surveys, Too: Survey Nonresponse Bias and the Coronavirus Pandemic. U.S. Census Bureau Working Paper Number SEHSD WP2020-10. [PDF Document]. 30 March 2021.

Update 2 October 2022

The BEA's annual data revision for 2022 has been released. It's much smaller in scale and scope than it might have been, covering the period from January 2017 through July 2022. We created the following animation to show how the revision changed Political Calculation's median household income estimates over this period.

Animation: Comparing U.S. Median Household Income Estimates from January 2006 - July 2022, Before and After 2022 BEA Data Revision

The effect of the data revision can be divided into two periods. From January 2017 through February 2021, the size of revisions were very small, with data during 2020 seeing the largest changes in the form of upward revisions with a magnitude of +0.2%. Much larger changes are concentrated in the period from March 2021 through July 2022 however, which were revised downward by progressively increasing amounts. The smallest revision in this second period was for March 2021, which was unchanged, the largest revision was for July 2022, which was reduced by $1,000. We'll have more analysis when we present the median household estimate for August 2022 on 4 October 2022.

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