Household incomes in the United States have rebounded from their 2012 bottom in the wake of the Great Recession. And for the most part, the typical incomes of households headed by less-educated adults as well as more-educated adults have increased, according to newly released Census Bureau data.
Among all households headed by those ages 25 and older, median household income (in 2018 dollars) increased 13% from 2012 ($57,100) to 2018 ($64,800). The incomes of households headed by adults with a ninth to 12th grade education – but short of a high school diploma – increased 14% during this span, likely the most of any education group. In contrast, the median income of households headed by adults with at least a bachelor’s degree rose by 8%.
It’s important to note that the 2018 median household income figures reflect changes to the data processing system implemented by the Census Bureau. For most households headed by adults ages 25 and older, the updated processing system results in minor differences in estimated median income. (For example, for all households with heads ages 25 and older, 2017 median income is $63,900 under the updated processing system but $64,200 under the old.)
Households headed by those with professional degrees (including medical doctors, dentists and lawyers) are the exception. Using the updated processing system, the 2017 median income of these households was $153,900, compared with $142,500 if estimated using the old processing system (an 8% difference). The upshot is that the 2018 median income of households headed by those with professional degrees ($160,000) is not directly comparable with the 2012 estimate ($142,000).
While the median income of less-educated households has increased since 2012, it is still much lower than that of households headed by individuals with more education. And less-educated households are earning a smaller share of the nation’s total income.
In 2018, all households headed by those ages 25 and older generated $11.2 trillion in income. Households headed by adults without a bachelor’s degree earned $5.1 trillion, or 45% of the total. This compares with 50% of aggregate household income in 2012 and an even higher share – 63% – in 1991. (These aggregate income figures are based on a Census survey of households and are generally less than aggregate income as measured in the National Income and Product Accounts.)
Some of the waning economic clout of less-educated households is due to their dwindling numbers: In 2018, 63% of households were headed by adults without a bachelor’s degree, down from 67% in 2012 and 77% in 1991.