How was your life in 1997?
If you're like the average American, you're now making the same amount of money as you were 12 years ago -- while still paying 2009 prices.
That's the word from the U.S. Census Bureau, which reported median household income dropped 3.5 percent to $50,303 in 2008, the sharpest drop since 1967.
The figures, the first from the Census to reflect the current recession, should be no surprise to many in Southwest Nebraska and Northwest Kansas, who have seen their hours cut voluntarily or involuntary, or even been laid off altogether.
Nationally, it put 13.2 percent of Americans in poverty, up from 12.5 percent in 2007, the highest rate since 1997.
Hispanics fared the worst, with median household income dropping 5.6 percent to $37,913, and women saw their median income decline 1.9 percent in 2008, nearly double the 1.9 percent decline in income for men working full time.
Since President Obama's speech focused attention on health care this week, it's worth noting that the number of Americans not covered by private health insurance increased to 46.3 million from 45.7 million in 2007. And, while the number of people on private insurance declined by 1 million in 2008, the number of people getting health insurance from government programs such as Medicare for the elderly and Medicaid for the poor increased by 4.4 percent.
As more and more Americans go on government health care programs, which are notorious for underreimbursing healthcare providers for their services, more and more of the cost falls on private pay patients.
And don't expect things to get any better, USA Today quoted Sheldon Danziger of the Populations Studies Center at the University of Michigan as predicting that household income will drop 5 percent or more in 2009.
And there's more evidence that the recession is coming home to Nebraska.
State revenue fell 4.6 percent below certified projections for August, putting state 3.2 percent below the expected forecast of $519 million for the fiscal year that began in July.
Gov. Heineman said he'll keep an eye on receipts, and if need be, recommend cuts in the 2010-11 half of the state's biennial budget. He vows to oppose any attempt to raise sales or income taxes.
What's the upshot?
Nebraska, like the rest of the nation, can't afford higher taxes of any kind, especially hidden taxes to pay for an untried universal healthcare scheme.