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Thursday, December 8, 2016

We’re in trouble now.

That’s the underlying message of a new Census Department report on income and poverty.

The overall picture is bleak and discouraging: Namely, things haven’t changed. Women still make less than men: The median earnings for women who worked full time, year-round were $39,621 – 79 percent of men’s, at $50,383, for the same group.

There has not been a statistically significant annual increase in this figure since 2007 — before the Great Recession.

“A woman makes 79 cents for every dollar a man makes” is often tossed around, but that number belies the differences between the number of hours worked, educational attainment, and the actual jobs people hold. And it still doesn’t explain everything there is to know about wage gaps: For instance, when people of color with the same educational background are compared to whites with the same history, they get paid less. The wage gap also persists even across different occupations, or even among women who don’t have children.

For all the talk about how the recession is over, median household income remained statistically unchanged for the third year in a row, following two years of decline, at $53,657.

Ronald Reagan – the GOP’s demigod – made the economy the touchstone of his 1980 presidential campaign with his question to voters: “Are you better off now than you were four years ago?” These numbers show us that right now, at least in terms of wages, we aren’t. This should be an opportunity for the GOP to make a real dent and appeal to the millions of people struggling to make ends meet.

Instead, it’s the Democratic candidates—from Hillary Clinton to Bernie Sanders to Martin O’Malley—and party luminaries like Elizabeth Warren, who have released policy proposals and given stump speeches on inequality and wage depression.

It’s a canny move, since young voters are acutely affected by wage shortfalls.

The Census Department report looked at data for what it calls “shared households”; those that have an adult who is not the head of household, spouse, cohabitating partner or enrolled in school—essentially, “adult children,” many of them millennials.

Before the recession, in spring 2007, 19.7 million people lived in households with that definition. Eight years later though, that number has increased by 4.2 million, almost 20 percent of all households. Out of that 23.9 million, 15.1 percent of them were between the ages of 25 and 34. The report pointed out that shared households often arise out of monetary need; it’s estimated that for those 6.5 million young adults, 39.4 percent would be considered to be living under the poverty threshold for a single person.

In other words, nearly 40 percent of adults in their mid-20s to their mid30s live with their parents or other relatives because they are too poor not to. Many of these are people who graduated college before the recession.

While none of these trends changed in a statistically significant way in one year, the report shows again the impact the recession has had on all demographic groups, and that, when it comes to the economy, the Democrats at least know what people are feeling.

Photo: People celebrate the passage of the minimum wage for fast-food workers by the New York State Fast Food Wage Board during a rally in New York on July 22, 2015. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

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