The proportion of San Diegans without health insurance continued to decline between 2013 and 2014 even as the region’s median household income remained lower and the poverty rate remained higher than they were before the Great Recession of 2007-2009, according to Census Bureau data released Wednesday. The median household income (deadset in the middle—half the households are above, half are below) in the metro area rose from $62,081 in 2013 to $66,192 in 2014, an increase of almost 7 percent. That’s still down from their pre-Great Recession highs. The median San Diego-area household’s 2007 income was $70,554 in 2014 inflation-adjusted dollars (the “Great Recession” officially began in December of 2007).
Peter Brownell, research director at the left-leaning San Diego-based Center on Policy Initiatives, said the effects of the Great Recession are still being felt.
“We lost a lot of jobs and the jobs that we’ve gotten back as a region have tended to be lower paying jobs,” said Brownell.
“There’s a lot of underemployment or poor quality employment that still gets counted as employment,” Brownell said, noting that while the stock market and the housing market have recovered to their pre-recession levels, wages haven’t managed to climb back.
Nationally, the median household income was $53,657 in 2014.
But if the change in San Diegans’ incomes between 2013 and 2014 was modest, the change in the region’s uninsured rate was not. The proportion of residents of the San Diego metropolitan area without health insurance fell nearly a quarter: from 16.3 percent in 2013 to 12.3 percent in 2014. The uninsured rate was 17 percent in 2009, the year the U.S. Census Bureau first began tracking the statistic.
Much of the coverage of the decline nationally has pointed to the insurance mandate under the Affordable Care Act, and while Brownell cautioned that causation is difficult to prove, he allowed that Obamacare (as the law is popularly known) probably had a big role to play locally, too.
“I would assume that the ACA really is the driving force behind most of that change,” Brownell said, mentioning the state’s Covered California health insurance exchange and concurrent expansion of Medi-Cal under the Act.
The release of the Census Bureau’s data comes amidst contentious debates in San Diego and throughout California about raising the minimum wage.
Next June, San Diego city voters will be asked to approve a minimum wage hike that will reach $11.50 per hour in January 2017.
A bill that would have raised the state’s minimum wage to $13 an hour over the next two years failed last month to pass the state Assembly just a day after a poll showed two-thirds of Californians favored a $15-an-hour minimum wage by 2021.
The statewide minimum wage is $9 an hour and will increase to $10 an hour in January.
Los Angeles and San Francisco were among several cities to increase their minimum wages above the state minimum this year.
And even as incomes rose and more San Diego-area residents gained access to health insurance, the prevalence of poverty in the region remained stubbornly static.
More than 14 percent of residents were below the poverty level — a variable measure of annual income that can reach as low as $12,316 for a single adult without children — in 2014, statistically unchanged from the 15.2 percent of residents below the poverty level in 2013.
And 18.9 percent of children who were below the poverty level in 2014, also statistically unchanged from the 19.4 percent who were in 2013.
Brownell, who said he was surprised the rate didn’t decrease even slightly given the improving unemployment rate (California’s was 6.2 percent in July), said the terrible job market during the Great Recession continues to exert downward pressure on wages.
“People may be back to work now but the economy and the kind of jobs that are out there have changed in such a way that even if they’re working, they’re not earning enough to support their family and bring their family up above the poverty line,” noting that of the adults who were in poverty in 2014, more than 40 percent worked during the previous year.
Nationally, 14.8 percent of individuals lived below the poverty level in 2014.
“The recovery hasn’t made its way down to the folks who were hardest hit by it,” Brownell said. “They’re still pretty much where they were during the Great Recession.”