By Susan Heavey
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - American household incomes lost ground last year and the poverty rate ticked up, the U.S. Census Bureau said on Wednesday, in a sign the U.S. economic expansion has not led to gains for many Americans five years after the 2007-2009 recession.
In its annual estimates of income, poverty and the number of uninsured, the bureau also found the percentage of people in the United States without health insurance coverage fell to 33 million, or 10.4 percent, in 2014 from 41.8 million, or 13.3 percent, in 2013.
The poverty rate ticked up to 14.8 percent in 2014 from 14.5 percent in 2013, the data showed, while the U.S. median income fell to $53,657 from $54,462. Census researchers said both changes were not statistically significant and it was not unusual for poverty rates to be flat from one year to another.
The Census data are a key indicator of the U.S. economic well-being, and they offer a glimpse into how people were faring five years into recovery from the 2007-2009 recession.
"In 2014, real median household income was 6.5 percent lower
than in 2007, the year before the most recent recession," Census researchers wrote.
A steady expansion has pushed the U.S. unemployment rate down to near 7-1/2-year lows, but wage gains have lagged and nearly 6.5 million Americans are working part time because they cannot find a full-time job.
Edward Welniak, chief of income statistics for the Census Bureau's housing and household economic branch, attributed the leveling of median income in part to a 1.2 million increase last year in non-family households, which typically have much lower income than family households.
"What we see there then is this increase in households at the lower end of the income distribution tended to hold down median household income," he said in a call with reporters.
With the economy regularly a top concern of voters, the findings are likely to add fuel for debate as 16 Republicans and six Democrats jockey for their parties' nominations ahead of the November 2016 presidential election.
The Census data covered the first full year of the 2010 Affordable Care Act's requirement for people to have health coverage, a law Republicans have attacked in Congress and on the campaign trail.
Under President Barack Obama's healthcare law, Americans faced fines starting in 2014 if they did not have health insurance.
The percentage of Americans who were uninsured dropped in 2014 after several years of a stable uninsured rate since 2008, the Census said.
"This represents the largest percentage-point decline in the uninsured rate during this period," Victoria Velkoff, chief of the bureau's social, economic and housing statistics, said in a statement.
People can be covered by employers or government programs such as Medicare, or purchase insurance through federal or state-run exchanges. The law, also known as Obamacare, expanded Medicaid, the health insurance program for the poor, and offered subsides to others to buy coverage.
(Reporting by Susan Heavey; Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Tim Ahmann and Mohammad Zargham)