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EDITORIAL: U.S. incomes are rising

The good economic news has come few and far between during almost eight years of the Obama presidency. Tuesday’s announcement that family incomes have rebounded and the poverty rate has dropped represent a high mark for the administration.

According to Census Bureau statistics, the median household income in the United States increased 5.2 percent in 2015 to $56,516. That’s the largest annual gain since the survey began measuring such statistics in 1967, the Wall Street Journal reported.

At the same time, the nation’s poverty rate — a family of four earning below $24,257, not counting wealth transfer payments, is defined as poor — fell to 13.5 percent from 14.8 percent in 2014.

“This is a big deal,” the president said. “More Americans are working, more have health insurance. Incomes are rising. Poverty is falling.”

Indeed, this is welcome progress, although a bit of perspective is in order. Even with the jump in family earnings, the country has yet to recover to pre-recesson levels. Median household incomes remain 1.7 percent below 2007 and 2.4 percent the all-time high set in 1999. In addition, those at the lower end of the spectrum lag behind.

“Incomes for the households in the 10th and 20th percentiles still stood 9.9 percent and 7.6 percent behind their peaks set at the end of the 1990s, respectively,” the Journal notes.

In other words, while Mr. Obama deserves credit for these recent developments, more must be done. And that starts with attacking the country’s anemic growth rate that has characterized this administration.

Through the second quarter of this year, the U.S. annual growth rate hovered around 1 percent, weak by any standards. The Obama recovery remains one of the feeblest in more than 50 years — and pointing the finger at George W. Bush is nothing but a convenient distraction. Even a slight decrease in growth can have significant long-term effects on a nation’s economic vitality and prosperity. We’ve now seen almost a decade of sub-standard growth.

If the president truly wants to build on Tuesday’s favorable report, he’ll recognize the importance of promoting federal policies that don’t pile unnecessary costs and obstacles on top of American businesses and entrepreneurs. “Regulatory accumulation slows down economic growth,” noted George Mason University’s Patrick McLaughlin in U.S. News and World Report.

Of course, it’s late in the game for Barack Obama. But if the next president hopes to generate more than isolated instances of promising economic news, that’s something he or she must remember.

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