Amid storms, and protests, and predictions of much worse, a bit of good news slipped through the other day when the U.S. Census Bureau reported that median real household income in the U.S. reached its highest level ever last year: $59,016. In other words, the typical American has never been better off financially. That’s up 3.2 percent from the year before, even after adjusting for inflation. And the median American family last year realized real income of $75,062. Half made more, half made less. A typical husband and wife, both working full time, could expect to earn about $93,000 annually.
The numbers suggest that the country continues to inch forward, even though growth has been slow for years and challenges continue on many fronts. The number of Americans living below the poverty line declined by 2.5 million from 2015 to 2016. But 40.6 million remain poor— about one of every eight Americans. So plenty of work remains. Elected officials in Washington— 100 percent of whom are paid, counting just their government salaries, far more than the median American household— could begin by designing a better tax system, one that respects labor and investment and in doing so rewards initiative, imagination, and determination. Ronald Reagan worked with Democrats in 1986 to create a pretty darn good tax code. Unfortunately, both parties started messing it up almost immediately and have continued to do so for the past three decades. Now would be a good time to stop.
One report does not a robust recovery create. But it is a timely reminder that, for all our risks and worries, America remains the wealthiest large nation in the world — and we are making more money here than we ever have before. Material wealth does not buy happiness. But it can measure a country’s ability to deliver farreaching opportunities for purposeful, satisfying lives. It’s important to take a moment and appreciate our good fortune. Perhaps we needn’t be quite so angry.