For the fourth consecutive year, real median income increased for U.S. households—by 3.5 percent between 1997 and 1998.1 Calendar year 1998 is the first year that the real median income of households surpassed the peak reached in 1989, the year before the most recent recessionary period (which lasted from July 1990 to March 1991).
The 1998 income year proved to be economically fruitful for many households. All types of households experienced significant gains in real median income, regardless of whether they were family households (composed of married-couple families or families maintained by a man or woman with no spouse present) or nonfamily households (composed of unrelated individuals living together or individuals living alone). For the first time since 1975 (when regional estimates of household income became available in tabulated form from the Current Population Survey or CPS), all four regions of the country experienced annual increases in median household income. Furthermore, households inside central cities, in suburbs, and outside metropolitan areas all experienced significant gains in median income.
The CPS demographic supplement conducted in March of each year is one of the best known and most widely used of all continuing federal household surveys. For 50 years, analysts, researchers, and policy makers have used the CPS to examine annual changes in income and earnings and to compare them with historical trends. Television, radio, and newspapers frequently draw upon this source for statistics on Americans’ jobs, income, poverty status, health insurance coverage, marital status, migration, and other characteristics.
The estimates in this report are based on interviewing a sample of the population. Respondents provide answers to the survey questions to the best of their ability. As with all surveys, the estimates differ from the actual values.
1 Changes in real income refer to comparisons after adjusting for inflation. The percentage changes in prices between earlier years and 1998 were computed by dividing the annual average Consumer Price Index (CPI-U) for 1998 by the annual average for earlier years. See Table B–1 in Appendix B for values of the CPI-U from 1947 to 1998.
(Table A presents the confidence intervals for estimates discussed in the text. Data users should consider the uncertainty when using these estimates.)
2 The 90-percent confidence interval for the 1998 female-to-male earnings ratio is ± .01. Table A shows confidence intervals for other statistics shown in this report.