Labor market recovery and pandemic relief measures lifted black and brown workers and their families in 2021

The Census Bureau’s 2021 Reports on Income and Poverty provide the first official glimpse into the economic state of American households by race and ethnicity in the first full year of the COVID-19 economic recovery, which reached people of color much faster than recovering from the Great Recession.

The pace of this faster recovery can be attributed to the strong response to pandemic policy that not only contributed to strong job growth throughout 2021, but also provided an important income support for economically vulnerable families and children.

However, along with these positive results came rising inflation that threatened to undermine any income gains. As a result, in 2021, real median household income ($70,784) was not statistically different from 2020 ($71,186). Real median household income also did not change statistically across all racial and ethnic groups. The reported income estimates reflect the Census Bureau’s inflation adjustment for 2021 – an annual increase of 4.7% between 2020 and 2021 and the largest annual increase since 1990. Whereas this indicates that average income has been essentially keeping pace with price increases in 2021, these estimates do not. Reflects the fastest increase in inflation in 2022.

Comparisons of income estimates for 2020 and 2021 to previous years should be made with caution, as Census reports note that “since 2020, survey non-response has continued to bias income statistics upwards by about 2%” due to lower response rates among low-income households since the pandemic. Furthermore, in an effort to “reduce non-response bias based on age, gender, race, and Hispanic origin and ensure that the weighted sample is representative of the US population,” data for 2020 and 2021 were (re)weighted using decimal population controls and would not match Estimates published last year.

All caveats aside, the relative racial and ethnic disparities in median household income remained unchanged during the 2020-2021 pandemic years, as shown in Figure A. In 2021, Asian households reported the highest median income ($101,418), followed by non-Hispanic white households ($77,999). Income remained significantly lower among Hispanics (from $57,981) and black families ($48,297). For every dollar of white household income, Hispanic and black households earn just 74 cents and 62 cents, respectively.

Median real household income by race and ethnicity, 2000-2021

year white black Hispanic Asia attributed white attributed black Hispanic attributed Attributed Asian white black Hispanic Asia white black Hispanic Asia
2000 $71,979 $46,806 $52,329 $69,522 $47,788 $50,699
2001 $71,033 $45,208 $51,490 $68,608 $46,157 $49,887
2002 $70,829 $43,836 $49,993 $79,477 $68,411 $44,756 $48,436 $85,780
2003 $70,552 43,776 dollars $48,726 $82,250 $68,144 $44,695 47,209 dollars $88,773
2004 $70,325 43,272 dollars 49,276 dollars $82,681 $67,924 $44,180 $47,742 $89,238
2005 $70,627 $42,915 $50,020 $84,965 $68,216 $43,816 $43,846 $91,703
2006 $70,617 $43,064 $50893 $86,533 $68,207 43,968 dollars $49,308 $93,396
2007 $71,941 $44,427 $50,666 $86,589 $69,485 $45,360 $49,088 $93,456
2008 $70,049 $43,165 $47,826 $82,798 $67,658 $44.071 $46,337 $89,364
2009 $68,940 $41,247 $48,152 $82,875 $66,587 $42,113 $46,653 $89,447
2010 $67,820 40,005 dollars $46863 $80,023 65,505 dollars $40,845 45404 dollars $86,369
2011 $66,897 38,909 dollars $46,629 $78,628 $64,614 $39726 $45,177 $84,864
2012 $67,397 $39,393 $46,113 $81,143 $65,096 $40,220 $44,677 $87,578
2013 $70,281 40,305 dollars $47,720 $78,128 $67,882 $41151 $46,234 $84,324 $67,882 $41151 $46,234 $84,324
2014 $69,027 $40,551 $48,676 $85,112 $69,027 $40,551 $48,676 $85,112
2015 $71,989 $42,196 $51631 $88,247 $71,989 $42,196 $51631 $88,247
2016 $73,433 $44,585 53,827 dollars $91,938 $73,433 $44,585 53,827 dollars $91,938
2017 $75,367 $44,496 55,800 dollars $89,892 $75,367 $44,496 55,800 dollars $89,892 $75,318 43,509 dollars $55,448 $89,960
2018 $76,220 $44,627 $55,513 $94,079
2019 80,602 dollars $48,153 $59,467 $104,041
2020 $78,912 $48,175 $58,015 $99,622
2021 $77,999 $48,297 $57981 $101,418
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