Exactly how is the economy for workers? Unemployment levels continue to go down, but automation and gig economy contract jobs can still make everything feel uncertain.
So one way people may think to look at how the economy is doing for employees is income. This can help give a more solid idea by determining the mean or median income in the country, but a deeper look is required - one single number doesn't tell the whole story of how many factors, occupations, institutional biases and more go into what a person's income actually is.
But before all that, what, at the moment, is the average income in the U.S.?
Average Income in the U.S.
Recently, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released their report on the Usual Weekly Earnings of Wage and Salary Workers. Using information from the fourth fiscal quarter of 2019, the BLS claims that in that quarter, the median income for a full-time wage or salary worker on a weekly basis was $936. For a 40-hour work week, this translates to a yearly income of approximately $48,672. This is a 4% increase on the previous year.
When seasonal adjustments (holidays, severe weather, etc.) are taken into account by the BLS, the median weekly earnings are $933, or about $48,516 per year.
These are very general numbers. After all, according to the BLS for this quarter there were 118.3 million full-time wage and salary workers in the U.S.
In addition, the BLS looked through the wage and salary information of about 24.2 million part-time workers in the U.S. and determined that the median weekly earnings for these workers was $284. This is a 4.41% increase over the fourth quarter of 2018, when the median weekly earnings for the same group of workers was $272.
Year-to-Year Changes in Average Income
Using seasonally adjusted figures, in addition to being a 4% increase on the fourth quarter of 2018, the weekly earnings of $933 were a 3.78% increase on the first quarter of 2018.
The increase from 2018-19 of 4% is much higher than what year-to-year increases have been in recent years, though the change from 2017-18 was nearly 5%. The fourth quarter of 2017's median weekly earnings of $854 was just a .09% increase on the same period of 2016, which was $846 in today's dollars. That was a 2.9% increase on the fourth quarter of 2015's median earnings of $822. The fourth quarter of 2012 saw median weekly earnings of $771, a 1.4% increase from 2011.
What Factors Impact Average Income?
As stated, however, these are all very broad numbers for a large population. Different people with different factors in their life have different incomes based on these factors, such as education level, race, age and gender.
For example, the lowest-earning 10% of full-time employees whose highest form of education is a high school diploma make, at most, $427 weekly. This is roughly $22,204 a year. The lowest-earning 10% of those with a bachelor's degree, on the other hand, earned as much as $627, or $32,604 a year. This is even true if we look at top earners, the 10% of the group with the highest income. For those with just a high school diploma, the upper limit is around $1,563 per week ($81,276 per year); for those with a bachelor's degree, the highest earners averaged up to $2,876 ($149,552 per year).
Education is far from the only factor that will impact average income. Some may be understandable on some level, but others are unfortunate examples of institutional bigotry.
Average Income Differences by Race
The BLS, in this report, breaks down income disparities by race by looking at the numbers for four different demographics: white, black or African American, Asian and Hispanic or Latino ethnicity. The differences are striking.
While the median weekly earnings overall is $936, for white full-time employees it is $967 (about $50,284 per year) and for Asian full-time employees it is $1,166 (about $60,632 per year). However, the median weekly earnings for full-time black or African American workers is just $756, which is $39,312 per year. And full-time Hispanic or Latino workers - the second-highest population of full-time employees at over 18.65 million - have median weekly earnings of just $712. This, over a full year, is just $37,024 per year.
This is also true in older ages, as full-time black, Hispanic and Latino workers struggle to achieve the same level of upward mobility full-time white workers do. The lowest earning black and African American workers made $4397 or lower a week; Hispanic and Latino workers didn't fare much better at just $404. The lowest earning 10% of white workers, though, made as much as $480 per week. The highest earning white workers made up to $2,294, easily entering the six-figure range at $119,288 per year, but for black and African American workers it stalls at $1,792 ($93,184 per year) while Hispanic and Latino workers in the highest earning group made around $1,644 per week ($85,488 a year).
Average Income Differences by Sex
Women made up over 45% of the full-time workers in Q4 in the BLS report, yet earned significantly less than their male counterparts. Men's median weekly earnings was above the general average at $1,022 a week, or $53,144 per year. Women, though, were significantly below it, as their median weekly earnings were $843, which is just $43,836 per year.
Race is an important factor in the income disparities between sexes as well. The median weekly earnings for white women who worked full-time was $859. This was considerably smaller than the same figure for white men who work full-time ($1,058 per week). However, this is actually larger than the median weekly earnings of black and African American men, as well as Hispanic or Latino men - and much more than black and Hispanic women. The median weekly earnings for a black or African American women was just $738, while the figure for Hispanic and Latino women was even lower at $654.
Average Income Differences by Age
One of the somewhat more understandable income gaps has to do with age. The three largest age brackets the BLS uses to track weekly earnings are 16-24, 25-54 and 55 and older. The youngest age bracket, often in minimum wage and entry level positions, easily make the least with a median weekly earning of $600, or about $31,200 per year. The 25-54 demographic's median weekly earnings rise significantly to $973, or $50,596 per year, while it's $1,030 a week, or $53,560 per year, for those 55 and over.
Average Income Differences by Job
The field you work in and the job you have within that field make a strong impact on the income an employee makes. The median weekly earnings for someone who works in management for business and financial operations is $1,434, or $74,568 a year. Service workers, despite their hard work at tough jobs, have median weekly earnings of just $601, which is just $31,252 a year.
Full-time employees in jobs related to sales have median weekly earnings of $827, or about $43,004. Those who work in occupations pertaining to installation, maintenance and repair had median earnings of $975, or $50,700 a year.
Average Income vs. Average Net Worth
Income, while important, does not tell the entire story of an individual or family's financial situation. That's why someone's average income tends to be far different than someone's average net worth.
Net worth is someone's assets minus their liabilities, and the more liabilities a person has, the lower their net worth is going to be. It's why the median weekly earnings of a full-time employee aged 25-34 is $876, or $45,552 annually, yet the median net worth of an American under 35 is only $11,100. Not old enough to own assets like a home but old enough to have potentially accrued up to hundreds of thousands of dollars in student loan debt, a young person making this salary - under the general median earnings - isn't likely to have a very high net worth.