Who Makes More Money in America?
(Photo by OZAN KOSE/AFP via Getty Images)
The money earned by American households has grown enormously since 1967, when President Lyndon Baines Johnson was still in office and the hippie generation was celebrating its so-called Summer of Love.
The median household income in the United States that year was $50,803 in constant 2021 dollars, according to the Census Bureau’s newly released annual income report.
Last year, according to the Census Bureau, the median household income was $70,784 in constant 2021 dollars (after dropping from the pre-pandemic high of $72,808 it hit in 2019).
In the 54 years from 1967 to 2021, inflation-adjusted median household income in this country grew by $19,981 — or 39.3%.
It is true, however, that not all American households have benefited equally from this massive increase in household income. Some types of households, as this column has noted before, tend to bring in more income than others.
So, which American households had higher incomes in 2021 and which had lower?
Last year, America saw a continuation in some longstanding patterns distinguishing households with higher incomes from those with lower incomes.
Higher education was the characteristic that led in 2021 to the highest median income among American householders 25 and older.
The median income of American households where the householder had a bachelor’s degree or higher was $115,456. If the householder had only completed some college, the median income was $64,378. If the householder had only completed high school, the median income was $50,401. But among households where the householder had never even graduated from high school, the median income was $30,378.
Americans who obtained a bachelor’s degree or higher had a median income 3.8 times greater than the median income of Americans who had ended their education before graduating from high school.
Another significant characteristic that separated households with higher incomes from those with lower incomes was the nature of their family life.
When the Census Bureau divided the “type of household” between “family households” and “nonfamily households,” the wealthiest sub-type turned out to be married couple households, which had a median income of $106,921 in 2021.
The next wealthiest type was a family household headed by a male householder with no spouse present. Their median income was $70,525. That was followed by a family household headed by a female householder with no spouse present, whose median income was $51,168. Male householders in a nonfamily household, by contrast, had a median income of only $49,466; and female householders in a nonfamily household had a median income of $35,737.
The median household income of a married couple family exceeded the median household income of female living in a nonfamily household by $71,184 — or 199%.
A third characteristic that contributed to household income was the age of the householder.
Median household income peaked at $97,089 among householders who were 45 to 54 years old. Among householders 15 to 24 years old, the median income was $51,645. Among those 25 to 34, it was $74,862. Among those 35 to 44, it was $90,312.
After age 54, median household incomes declined. Among those 55 to 64, it was $75,842. Among those 65 and older, it was $47,620.
The median income of households where the householder was 45 to 54 exceeded the median household income of households where the householder was 65 or older by $49,469 — or 104%.
Immigration also was a significant factor in median household income. But it worked in two different directions.
Households headed by foreign-born individuals who had become naturalized U.S. citizens had a median income of $74,150. Households headed by native-born U.S. citizens, by contrast, had a median income of $71,522.
Thus, households headed by naturalized immigrants had a median income that was $2,628 — or 3.7% higher — than the median income of households headed by native-born U.S. citizens.
But households headed by foreign-born individuals who were not citizens of the United States had a median household income of $57,132. That was $14,390 — or 20.1% — less than the median income of households headed by native-born U.S. citizens; and it was $17,018 — 22.9% — less than the median income of households headed by naturalized U.S. citizens.
In a subsection titled “Nativity,” the Census Bureau report summarized these results this way: “Households maintained by naturalized citizens had the highest median household income in 2021 ($74,150), followed by native-born householders ($71,522). Households maintained by non-citizens had the lowest household income ($57,132).”
The Census Bureau’s report did not include a separate income category for foreign-born people who are in the United States illegally. “The foreign-born,” it said, “can be classified into two categories: those who are naturalized U.S. citizens and those who are not U.S. citizens.”
Presumably, however, households headed by foreign-born individuals who are not legally in the United States would be included among those who are foreign-born but not citizens of the United States.
The Census Bureau report also demonstrated the obvious: People who work full-time make more money than people who do not. In 2021, the median earnings for all male workers was $50,983, but the median earnings for men who worked full-time, year-round was $61,180. Similarly, the median earnings for all female workers was $39,201, but the median earnings for females who worked full-time, year-round was $51,226
The Census Bureau’s report on income in the United States in 2021 once again reveals what it takes to win financially in this country: Stay in school. Stay married. Follow the law. Keep working.
(Terence P. Jeffrey is the editor in chief of CNSNews.com.)