The labor market recovery and pandemic relief measures lifted Black and Brown workers and families in 2021


The 2021 Census Bureau reports on income and poverty provide a first official glimpse at the economic condition of U.S. households by race and ethnicity in the first full year of the COVID-19 economic recovery, which reached people of color much faster than the recovery from the Great Recession.  

The faster pace of this recovery can be attributed to the strong pandemic policy response that not only contributed to robust job growth throughout 2021, but also provided critical income supports to economically vulnerable families and children.

However, along with these positive outcomes came a spike in inflation that threatened to chip away at any income gains. As a result, in 2021, real median household income ($70,784) was not statistically different from 2020 ($71,186). Real median household income was also statistically unchanged across all racial and ethnic groups. Reported income estimates reflect the Census Bureau’s inflation adjustment for 2021 – an annual increase of 4.7% between 2020 and 2021 and the largest annual increase since 1990. While this suggests that median incomes essentially kept pace with the 2021 rise in prices, these estimates do not reflect the more rapid increase in inflation in 2022.   

Comparisons of 2020 and 2021 income estimates to earlier years should be made with caution as Census reports that “since 2020, survey nonresponse has continued to bias income statistics upward by about 2%” due to much lower response rates among low-income households since the pandemic. Further, in an attempt to “mitigate nonresponse bias based on age, sex, race, and Hispanic origin and ensure that the weighted sample is representative of the U.S. population,” both 2020 and 2021 data have been (re)weighted using decennial census population controls and will not match estimates published last year.   

All caveats aside, relative racial and ethnic disparities in median household income remained unchanged during the 2020-2021 pandemic years, as shown in Figure A. In 2021, Asian households reported the highest median income ($101,418), followed by non-Hispanic white households ($77,999). Incomes remained much lower among Hispanic (from $57,981) and Black households ($48,297). Relative to every dollar of white household income, Hispanic and Black households earn just 74 cents and 62 cents, respectively.  

Real median household income by race and ethnicity, 2000–2021

Year White  Black  Hispanic  Asian  White-imputed   Black-imputed  Hispanic-imputed  Asian-imputed  White  Black  Hispanic  Asian  White  Black  Hispanic  Asian 
2000 $71,979 $46,806 $52,329 $69,522 $47,788 $50,699
2001 $71,033 $45,208 $51,490 $68,608 $46,157 $49,887
2002 $70,829 $43,836 $49,993 $79,477 $68,411 $44,756 $48,436 $85,780
2003 $70,552 $43,776 $48,726 $82,250 $68,144 $44,695 $47,209 $88,773
2004 $70,325 $43,272 $49,276 $82,681 $67,924 $44,180 $47,742 $89,238
2005 $70,627 $42,915 $50,020 $84,965 $68,216 $43,816 $43,846 $91,703
2006 $70,617 $43,064 $50,893 $86,533 $68,207 $43,968 $49,308 $93,396
2007 $71,941 $44,427 $50,666 $86,589 $69,485 $45,360 $49,088 $93,456
2008 $70,049 $43,165 $47,826 $82,798 $67,658 $44,071 $46,337 $89,364
2009 $68,940 $41,247 $48,152 $82,875 $66,587 $42,113 $46,653 $89,447
2010 $67,820 $40,005 $46,863 $80,023 $65,505 $40,845 $45,404 $86,369
2011 $66,897 $38,909 $46,629 $78,628 $64,614 $39,726 $45,177 $84,864
2012 $67,397 $39,393 $46,113 $81,143 $65,096 $40,220 $44,677 $87,578
2013 $70,281 $40,305 $47,720 $78,128 $67,882 $41,151 $46,234 $84,324 $67,882 $41,151 $46,234 $84,324
2014 $69,027 $40,551 $48,676 $85,112 $69,027 $40,551 $48,676 $85,112
2015 $71,989 $42,196 $51,631 $88,247 $71,989 $42,196 $51,631 $88,247
2016 $73,433 $44,585 $53,827 $91,938 $73,433 $44,585 $53,827 $91,938
2017 $75,367 $44,496 $55,800 $89,892 $75,367 $44,496 $55,800 $89,892 $75,318 $43,509 $55,448 $89,960
2018 $76,220 $44,627 $55,513 $94,079
2019 $80,602 $48,153 $59,467 $104,041
2020 $78,912 $48,175 $58,015 $99,622
2021 $77,999 $48,297 $57,981 $101,418
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