RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
Next we have the story of a single economic number that illustrates a big improvement. Americans, broadly speaking, got a raise in 2015. The median household income grew more than it has in 15 years. That reversed years of stagnation and decline for the middle class. NPR's Pam Fessler has more.
PAM FESSLER, BYLINE: Ever since the economy began to recover seven years ago, the Census Bureau has reported little change and even some declines in household income and not much change in poverty. But this latest report was different.
SHELDON DANZIGER: I was pleasantly shocked.
FESSLER: Sheldon Danziger is president of the Russell Sage Foundation and a longtime poverty expert. He called the new census numbers remarkable.
DANZIGER: It looked to me like good news across the board, poverty falling for children as well as adults, family incomes rising for black and Hispanic households as well as white households.
FESSLER: And the increases were striking. Last year, the median household income was $56,500 - 5 percent higher than it was in 2014. Still, household incomes were lower than they were before the recession, and the poverty rate was still higher. Last year, 43 million Americans were poor. Robert Doar with the American Enterprise Institute called the 13.5 percent poverty rate a good start.
ROBERT DOAR: It's still a full percentage point above what it was prior to the recession. And it's a long way from where we were in 2000. So I think we're doing better, but I think we could do still better.
FESSLER: What everyone does seem to agree is that incomes are up and poverty's down because more people have full-time, year-round work and their earnings are higher. Valerie Wilson of the Economic Policy Institute says this has been especially notable for African-Americans who have seen some of the biggest gains in the labor force.
VALERIE WILSON: The caveat with that is even though we've seen greater improvement, the black unemployment rate is still double the white unemployment rate, is still higher than all other groups.
FESSLER: And poverty among African-Americans and Hispanics while down is still more than twice what it is for whites, and that goes for children as well. Almost one-third of all black children in the U.S. were living in poverty last year, according to the census. But Wilson says at least that's better than it was the year before. Pam Fessler, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.