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Poverty goes down, coverage goes up, and America gets a raise

Paul Ryan's recent condemnation of President Obama's legacy was obliterated today by new data on incomes, poverty, and insurance coverage.
President Barack Obama greets Speaker of the House Paul Ryan before his State of the Union address on Capitol Hill Jan. 12, 2016 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Evan Vucci/Pool/Getty)
President Barack Obama greets Speaker of the House Paul Ryan before his State of the Union address on Capitol Hill Jan. 12, 2016 in Washington, D.C.
Just a couple of days ago, the Washington Examiner published a curious op-ed from House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who's convinced that President Obama will be remembered as a leader done in by an ineffective ideology. Obama's "ultimate legacy," the far-right Speaker complained, "will be showing the country that progressivism in practice just doesn't work."
Ryan added, "For all the tax hikes and reckless spending and red tape, America is not better off."
It's hard to overstate how profoundly wrong the Speaker is: by practically every imaginable metric, the country is vastly better off. Take today's news from the Census Bureau, for example.

Americans finally got a raise last year after eight years of stagnating incomes. The typical U.S. household's income rose 5.2 percent in 2015 to $56,516, the Census Bureau said Tuesday.... The government's annual report on incomes and poverty portrays an economy that is finally starting to benefit a wider range of Americans, roughly six years after the recovery began.

It's been quite a while since Americans saw a report this good on incomes and poverty. Jason Furman, chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, said on Twitter this afternoon, "I usually try to be restrained, but this is unambiguously the best Income, Poverty & Health Insurance report ever."
That probably sounds hyperbolic. It's not. Furman fleshed out the details from the Census Bureau's document and highlighted several key findings, including the fact that income growth last year was the fastest on record (this report dates back roughly a half-century); the income growth was widespread across every income group and racial/ethnic demographic, with Americans at the bottom seeing the largest percentage increase; poverty rates saw their largest one-year drop since 1968; and the number of Americans without health insurance dropped to the lowest point ever recorded in the United States. Even the pay gap between men and women has improved to its lowest level ever.
It's not often we see economic news this encouraging.
New York's Jon Chait's take on today's data rings true.

It is almost impossible to overstate how thoroughly this data nullifies the central charges made against the administration's policies. The left-wing version of the economic stagnation claim charges that Obama's program has failed at the root level, allowing the rich to hoover up all the gains and doing almost nothing for the suffering masses. The more popular right-wing version argues that, whatever social benefits Obama has purchased -- 20 million more insured, strict new regulations on Wall Street, lower greenhouse gas emissions -- they have come at a terrible and unacceptable price. Obama's big-government agenda has snuffed out the entrepreneurial genius of American capitalism, dooming its people to endless stagnation, unless and until Paul Ryan can liberate them from stifling taxes and regulation. These sweeping philosophical arguments hinged in large measure on a now-moot statistical artifact. [...] [F]or the vast majority of Americans who don't resist Obama's policies philosophically -- and the Republican primaries have revealed just how few committed economic libertarians the Grand Old Party truly has -- the practical outcomes are growing harder and harder to gainsay.

Paul Ryan probably should've held onto that op-ed for a couple of additional days before sending it in for publication.