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FILE - This June 13, 2018 file photo, shows United States currency in Zelienople, Pa. The proportion of Americans without health insurance edged up in 2018 - the first increase in nearly a decade after coverage had significantly increased under President Barack Obama’s health care law. The Census Bureau also said in an annual report Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2019, that household income rose last year at its slowest pace in four years and finally matched its previous peak set in 1999. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic, File)

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON - The Census Bureau said in an annual report Tuesday that household income in the U.S. rose last year at its slowest pace in four years and finally matched its previous peak set in 1999. Median household income increased 0.9% in 2018 to an inflation-adjusted $63,179, from $62,626 in 2017.

The data suggest that the current economic expansion, now the longest on record at more than 10 years, is still struggling to provide widespread benefits to the U.S. population. Solid gains in household incomes over the past four years have returned the median only to where it was two decades ago. And despite strong growth last year in the number of Americans working full time and year-round, the number of people with private health insurance remained flat.

A bright spot in the report was that the poverty rate fell for a fourth straight year to 11.8%, its lowest point since 2001. The proportion of households led by women that were poor reached a record low.

"While any reduction in poverty or increase in income is a step in the right direction, most families have just barely made up the ground lost over the past decade," said Elise Gould, senior economist at the liberal Economic Policy Institute.

Though income inequality narrowed last year, it remains near record levels reached in 2017. Last year, the richest 5% of the U.S. population captured 23% of household income.

Still, steady hiring and an unemployment rate at 3.7%, near a five-decade low, have helped raise earnings for lower-paid workers employed by restaurants, warehouses, shipping firms and other sectors of the economy.

This trend has contributed to a decline in poverty.

Changes in how Census conducts its income survey have made historical comparisons difficult. Still, household incomes largely declined for the first five years after the recession ended, before taking a sharp turn up in 2015, when they rose 5.1%. Incomes jumped 3.1% the next year but then slowed to 1.8% in 2017 and barely rose last year.

The economic expansion hasn't noticeably narrowed the income gap between white and African-American households. The median income for black households is $41,700; for whites, it's $70,600.

Women earned nearly 82 cents for every dollar earned by men, a figure little changed from the previous year and up just 4 cents from 2007, when the Great Recession began. That figure compares men and women with full-time, year-round jobs.

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