(MoneyWatch) In a hopeful sign, U.S. incomes were up 0.7 percent in June, the first significant gain in more than a year, according to a new report. The report from Sentier Research also found that even though the unemployment rate hasn't changed much, the amount of time people spent unemployed has continued to drop.
The median annual household income increased by $351 in June to $52,098. That's the highest it's been since August 2010. However, it is still significantly lower than the pre-crisis median income level, which from January 2000 to May 2009 was generally between $55,000 and $56,000. The June numbers mean incomes are 4.4 percent lower than the $54,478 in June 2009, the end of the recent recession and beginning of the "economic recovery."
"We are now four years out from the official end of the recession and median household income stands 4.4 percent below the median in June 2009," Gordon Green, one of the report's authors, said in a statement. "Median household income reached a post-recession low in August 2011. Since that time we have not seen any sustained trend, although the median has risen from that low point. As noted in our noted in our previous reports, we are watching this household income series closely for signs of any sustained directional movement."
The report, based on figures from the U.S. Census' Current Population Survey, shows income has moved in fits and starts, staying flat for several months and then making a significant movement up or down. For example, June's increase came after four months of no change. For the past 18 months household incomes are up 1.8 percent.
While June's increase more than made up for the drop in January, in real terms all it means is that incomes are keeping even with the current 1.8 percent rate of inflation.
The report also uses data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics to provide more details about the nation's mixed employment situation. On the positive side the median duration of unemployment dropped to 16.3 weeks in June, only the second time since September 2009 it has been that low.
However this doesn't really reflect an improvement for workers. The report's broader measure of employment hardship, which includes the unemployed, marginally attached workers (of which discouraged workers are a subset) and persons working part-time for economic reasons, stood at 14.3 percent in June 2013, significantly higher than 13.8 percent mark of the previous month.