U.S. middle-class incomes reached highest-ever level in 2016, Census Bureau says

The incomes of middle-class Americans rose last year to the highest level ever recorded by the Census Bureau, as poverty declined and the scars of the past decade’s Great Recession seemed to finally fade.

Median household income rose to $59,039 in 2016, a 3.2 percent increase from the previous year and the second consecutive year of healthy gains, the Census Bureau reported Tuesday. The nation’s poverty rate fell to 12.7 percent, returning nearly to what it was in 2007 before a financial crisis and deep recession walloped workers in ways that were still felt years later.

The new data, along with another census report showing the rate of Americans lacking health insurance to be at its lowest ever last year, suggest that Americans were actually in a position of increasing financial strength as President Trump, who tapped into anger about the economy, took office this year.

Yet the census report also points to the sources of deeper anxieties among American workers and underscores threats to continued economic progress.

Middle-class households are only now seeing their income eclipse 1999 levels.

Inequality remains high, with the top fifth of earners taking home more than half of all overall income, a record. And yawning racial disparities remain, with the median African American household earning only $39,490, compared with more than $65,000 for whites and over $81,000 for Asians.

Economists and policy experts wonder whether the gains will continue. The median income had surged since 2014 because millions more Americans found full-time jobs, but there is little evidence that employers are rushing to offer raises to those who already are employed. Without more wage gains, momentum could slow.

Meanwhile, the rate of people without health insurance declined only slightly last year, to 8.8 percent, the Census Bureau said.

The Trump administration is widely expected to cut back on programs that promote enrollment under the Affordable Care Act, meaning that the ranks of the 28.1 million uninsured Americans might grow.

“There’s a danger that this is as good as it gets,” said Peter Atwater, president of Financial Insyghts. “We are already at a 16-year low in unemployment. The likelihood of significant job growth from here is limited.”

Trump promised that a combination of tax cuts, infrastructure investment packages, renegotiated trade deals and the repeal of Obama administration regulations would deliver a burst of job creation and attendant economic growth.

So far, no such boom can be found.

In Trump’s first seven months, the U.S. economy has added about 25,000 fewer jobs per month than it did during the last seven months of Barack Obama’s presidency. In a more positive sign, the gross domestic product grew at an annual rate of 3 percent in the second quarter of 2017, according to a federal report issued in late August.

Much of Trump’s agenda remains pending, however, either awaiting action by his administration or bogged down in Congress. And while most economists think it is too early in Trump’s term for his administration to have a measurable effect on the economy, there are real doubts about whether he will be able to enact his agenda, particularly after his health-care effort died in the Senate. Both his tax reform and infrastructure efforts face significant hurdles in Congress.

“Where is the extra progress going to come from? You have growing uncertainty that Washington will be able to create any sort of tax relief or infrastructure plan,” Atwater said.

For now, though, the economy is returning to pre-recession levels, as indicated by several benchmarks. The national unemployment rate was 4.4 percent in August, just about the same as pre-recession levels. And in July, U.S. employers had generated enough jobs to restore national employment to where it stood before the recession started in 2007, even after accounting for population growth in the intervening decade.

The household earnings are welcome news for the middle class, which, after leaps forward in the 1990s, struggled amid the slow overall growth of the early 2000s and was devastated by the recession.

The income increase extended to almost every demographic group, Census Bureau officials said. The figure the agency reported Tuesday was the highest on record. The agency reports that in 1999, median household income, adjusted for inflation, was $58,655. Agency officials cautioned that the bureau changed its methodology in 2014, complicating an exact historical comparison.

Julian West, of Phoenix, is one of the many Americans whose lives improved dramatically last year.

For much of the recovery, he could find only “dead-end” minimum-wage jobs at carwashes and discount stores.

“I was really struggling,” said West, 44, who was forced to move back in with his parents.

In 2016, he went to a temp agency in Phoenix and landed a job that paid $18 an hour. It did not last, but the recruiter called again and moved him to the job he has now at BB&T Bank monitoring car-loan payments and repossessions. The job pays $16 an hour, with ample opportunity for overtime pay, he said.

“I’m slowly saving and paying off bills,” West told The Washington Post. He recently moved into a small studio apartment, now that he’s earning $35,000 a year. “I’ll be middle class again if I keep my spending to bare bones.”

West credits Obama with bringing the economy back. He did not vote for Trump, but he hopes someone with the business experience of the president can help the working poor.

Many Americans are optimistic, as West is, that their fortunes will continue to improve. A Gallup poll released Tuesday found that 64 percent of Americans think their “standard of living” is improving, the highest percentage since the financial crisis, while only 19 percent feel their standard of living is declining.

“Today’s census report is unambiguously good news: on income, on poverty and on health insurance,” said Bob Greenstein, the founder and president of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a left-leaning think tank. “The goal should be to continue this progress.”




The United States, Russia and Jordan reached a ceasefire and “de-escalation agreement” for southwestern Syria on Friday, as the US government under President Donald Trump made its first attempt at peacemaking in the country’s six-year-old civil war.

The ceasefire, due to start at noon Damascus time (0900 GMT) on Sunday, was announced after a meeting between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G20 summit of major economies in the German city of Hamburg.


US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the area covered by the ceasefire affects Jordan’s security and is a “very complicated part of the Syrian battlefield.”

Russia and Iran are the main international backers of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad while Washington supports some of the rebel groups fighting to topple him.

“I think this is our first indication of the U.S. and Russia being able to work together in Syria, and as a result of that we had a very lengthy discussion regarding other areas in Syria that we can continue to work together on to de-escalate the areas,” Tillerson said.

Previous similar ceasefires have failed to hold for long and it was not clear how much the actual combatants — Assad’s government and the main Syrian rebel forces in the southwest — are committed to this latest effort.

Former US President Barack Obama struggled to find a strategy to end Syria’s civil war, which killed nearly half a million people, turned cities into ruins and forced millions to flee abroad.

Syria has also tripped up Trump, who promised better relations with Moscow but angered Russia in April by ordering missile strikes against a Syrian air base to punish Assad after a chemical weapons attack.

The Syria deal appeared to give Trump a diplomatic achievement at his first meeting with Putin where they also discussed the thorny issues of Moscow’s alleged interference in the US 2016 presidential election and North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.


Backed by Russian air power, Assad has regained ground in the last year or so lost to the mostly Sunni Muslim rebels.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the accord includes “securing humanitarian access and setting up contacts between the opposition in the region and a monitoring center that is being established in Jordan’s capital.”

The ceasefire should pave the way toward a more robust pacification effort, said a senior State Department official involved in the talks. “It is a first step in what we envision to be a more complex and robust ceasefire arrangement and de-escalation arrangement in southwest Syria, certainly more complex than ones we have tried in the past.”

The official said further discussions would be needed to decide crucial aspects of the ceasefire, however, including monitoring its enforcement.

Tillerson said that by and large the objectives of the United States and Russia in Syria “are exactly the same.”

But Washington and Moscow have long been at odds over Syria.

The United States has often called for the removal of Assad, who it blames for shootings of protesters at the start of the conflict and, more recently, chemical weapons attacks on civilians.

Russia and Iran strongly back the Syrian leader, who gives both countries a strategic foothold in the Mediterranean Sea.

Despite the ceasefire deal, Tillerson said the United States still sees “no long-term role for the Assad family or the Assad regime. And we have made this clear to everyone. We certainly made it clear in our discussions with Russia.”

Robert Ford, who resigned in 2014 as U.S. ambassador to Syria over policy disagreements, said the Trump administration, like that of Obama, has “no national objective for the future of Syria nor any strategy for how to secure an objective were one identified.”

By contrast, Russia’s overall aim is clearer, said Ford, now a fellow at the Middle East Institute think tank in Washington.

“The Russian objective is to insulate Damascus and the Syrian national government from outside pressure trying to pressure it into major concessions,” he said.

A group of Syrian rebels that took part in the latest peace talks in Kazakhstan this month said in a statement it had “great concern over the secret meetings between Russia and Jordan and America to conclude an individual deal for southern Syria in isolation from the north,” which it described as an unprecedented event that “divides Syria and the opposition.”

The Syrian government and the Southern Front, the main grouping of Western-backed rebel groups in southwest Syria, did not immediately react to the ceasefire deal.

It was not immediately clear exactly which areas of southwestern Syria would be covered by the ceasefire but earlier talks between the United States and Russia about a “de-escalation zone” covered Deraa province, on the border with Jordan, and Quneitra, which borders the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

British Defense Secretary Michael Fallon welcomed any ceasefire in Syria but wanted to see results on the ground.

“The recent history of the Syrian civil war is littered with ceasefires and it would be nice … one day to have a ceasefire,” Fallon said at an event in Washington.

Bipartisan Agreement Reached to Fund Government Through September

WASHINGTON — Congressional leaders reached a bipartisan agreement on Sunday to fund the government through September, according to aides from both parties, effectively ending any suspense about the possibility of a government shutdown next weekend.

The agreement, which still must be voted on by lawmakers, includes increased funding for the military and for border security. But it does not include funding for the wall that President Trump wants to build along the border with Mexico, one of his major campaign promises.

The deal increases funding for the National Institutes of Health, despite the Trump administration’s request that its budget be reduced for the rest of the fiscal year. And it provides millions of dollars to reimburse costs incurred by local law enforcement agencies to protect Mr. Trump and his family — a boon to New York City, which has had the costly task of helping to protect Trump Tower.

The spending package would be the first significant bipartisan measure approved by Congress during the Trump presidency. Republicans, despite having control of both houses of Congress and the White House, were unable to pass any marquee legislation in the president’s first 100 days.

The deal should spare Republicans the embarrassment of seeing the government shut down on their watch. But it also gave a glimpse of the reluctance of lawmakers to bend to Mr. Trump’s spending priorities, like his desire for sharp cuts to domestic programs, with the increase in funding for medical research a prime example. And it leaves the border wall looming as a fight in future spending negotiations, especially if Mr. Trump presses the issue, as he vowed to do during a rally Saturday night to mark his 100th day in office.

Details of the agreement were not yet public on Sunday night, but several congressional aides described key parts of it. The measure will cover the rest of the fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.

Lawmakers had already taken action to keep the government open while they finalized the spending agreement. On Friday, Congress approved a one-week spending measure that averted a shutdown on Saturday.

In recent days, the spending talks on Capitol Hill had seemed unlikely to result in the kind of impasse that could lead to a shutdown, the last of which occurred in 2013. Some key obstacles, including the border wall and a standoff over subsidy payments to insurers under the Affordable Care Act, seemed to fall away as congressional negotiators worked on a deal. The White House said last week that it would continue to make the payments, and that assurance satisfied Democrats who wanted to ensure that the subsidies, which lower deductibles and other out-of-pocket costs for low-income consumers, would remain.

Lawmakers were able to reach a resolution Sunday on another potential sticking point, the fate of retired coal miners who faced losing their health coverage, an issue that brought lawmakers close to a government shutdown in December. The deal provides a permanent extension of health coverage for the retired miners.

Though the spending agreement saves the president and congressional Republicans from the specter of a shutdown during a period of one-party rule, it does deprive Mr. Trump of a major victory on the border wall, and Democrats seemed pleased with how they fared.

“This agreement is a good agreement for the American people and takes the threat of a government shutdown off the table,” Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the minority leader, said in a statement. “The bill ensures taxpayer dollars aren’t used to fund an ineffective border wall, excludes poison-pill riders, and increases investments in programs that the middle-class relies on, like medical research, education and infrastructure.”

He added that Democrats had “clearly laid out our principles” early in the debate, and argued that the final measure “reflects those principles.”

Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the Democratic leader, cheered the deal as a “sharp contrast to President Trump’s dangerous plans to steal billions from lifesaving medical research” and expressed relief that the bill would not pay for an “immoral and unwise border wall or create a cruel new deportation force.”

As of late Sunday, neither Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, nor the House speaker, Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, had issued statements appraising the agreement.

The negotiations took place in recent days amid a furious scramble inside the White House to demonstrate progress before Mr. Trump’s 100th day in office. Republicans in the House still hope to advance a revised version of their bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

Last week, the revised bill earned the backing of the hard-line House Freedom Caucus, though the changes gave pause to numerous moderate Republicans, including some who had backed the initial proposal.

It was unclear when a vote on that measure might occur, despite pressure from the White House. Republican leaders in Congress have said repeatedly that a vote will come when they can ensure passage through the House.



VIENNA – A record number of antisemitic incidents, ranging from verbal and online threats to assaults, were recorded in Austria last year, a non-governmental organization said in a report published on Thursday.

The number of cases rose slightly in 2016 to 477 from 465 the previous year, when the figure had jumped by roughly 200, the organization, the Forum Against Antisemitism said.


The report follows a finding by Austria’s BVT domestic intelligence service a year ago that incidents involving xenophobia, Islamophobia and anti-Semitism were on the rise in the small country that was swept up in Europe’s migration crisis and where the refugee influx has become a hot-button issue.

“It is of course alarming,” said the president of the Jewish Community of Vienna (IKG), Oskar Deutsch.

“We now have two consecutive years at a record level,” said Deutsch, who put the size of Austria’s Jewish community at roughly 13,000-15,000 in an overall population of 8.8 million.

Growing concerns about jobs and security, often in connection with immigration, have helped fuel growing support for the far-right Freedom Party, which was founded by former Nazis. It is now running first in opinion polls.

The Freedom Party is strongly critical of Islam and denounces anti-Semitism, but its efforts to court Jewish voters have shown few signs of success. The IKG, the main body representing Austrian Jews, says it is still xenophobic.

The report said that cases involving insults and threats had increased by a third to 24 last year, while those involving the internet fell by a quarter to 153. Those involving letters and phone calls rose 7 percent to 198, and those involving damage to property rose 36 percent to 68.

There were seven assaults, up from two in 2015 but below the nine recorded in 2014.

Increased awareness and reporting was one of several factors that explained the eight-fold increase in incidents recorded since 2006, but there was also a weakening stigma associated with anti-Semitic views, the group that compiled the report said.

“What we see is that racism in general has become more socially acceptable in Austria,” Amber Weinber of the Forum Against Antisemitism said, adding the same was true of antisemitism.

“Since it has become more socially acceptable, people increasingly are posting (anti-Semitic messages) in their own name or sending letters with return addresses on them,” she said.

The causes of that shift were, however, hard to pin down, Weinber added. “We do not have an exact explanation. We can only say what we see,” she said.


Over the past 30 hours, the gun debate in America has taken a dramatic turn.

At 2:11 a.m. on Thursday, Democratic Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy declared victory, 14 hours and 50 minutes after he took over the chamber floor to protest Congress’ years-long inaction on gun control measures. Beginning at 11:21 a.m. on Wednesday, three days after 49 individuals were killed by a gunman in the Orlando, Florida, nightclub mass shooting, Murphy vowed not to concede until Senate Republicans agreed to allow two votes: one to prohibit suspected terrorists from buying guns, and another to expand background checks on potential gun purchases. By Thursday, there wasn’t a hard guarantee that either amendment would pass, but Murphy implied there was an understanding from both sides that votes needed to be cast to curb gun violence in the United States.

At a press conference on Thursday morning, which had a tagline of “disarm hate,” Senate Democrats were joined by Tina Meins, whose father was killed in the December 2015 mass shooting in San Bernardino, California, and by the Reverend Sharon Risher, whose mother and two cousins died in the June 2015 mass shooting in Charleston, South Carolina. They argued the country has reached a tipping point in the gun movement, enhanced by Americans’ ongoing fear of terrorism, including homegrown lone wolves and the Islamic State militant group, or ISIS. “Everyone realizes that the terrorist we need to fear is not on the streets of Aleppo or Mosul or Fallujah,” Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey told reporters Thursday morning. “It’s on the streets of the United States. And they will have guns unless we pass tough laws.”

Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal, who remained in the Senate chamber for the duration of Murphy’s 14-hour-50-minute filibuster, said Americans want change, and the hot-button issue of guns in America right now presents an opportunity to show the country that it’s possible.

“The most difficult question I am asked, having spent the better part of 25 years on this issue, is ‘What has changed?’” he said. “The answer is that Americans have changed in their realization that gun violence cannot only be prevented, but it must be prevented.”

Murphy is an outspoken gun control advocate, whose state is home to Newtown, where the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre occurred. His filibuster began when he interrupted a Senate debate on the Commerce, Justice and Science Appropriations bill, in which Democrats had demanded the inclusion of gun amendments.

“My legs are a little bit rubbery, but my heart is strong this morning because I know that we made a difference yesterday, and I know that we galvanized support all across this country,” he told reporters.

Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, also said seven months ago that the gun control movement is at a tipping point. “We’re finally at the precipice we’ve been waiting for,” he said at a Brady Campaign event in November. The organization, one of the leading gun control advocacy groups, works to extend background checks at the national level to all sales of firearms, including at gun shows and online. Federal law currently doesn’t apply to about 40 percent of total gun sales that occur each day.

At the media event Thursday—the eve of the one-year mark of the deadly Charleston shooting—in whichnine black worshippers were gunned down during Bible study at the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church—Murphy gathered with his colleagues to discuss the immediate steps they could take to reduce gun violence. They vowed to continue the fight until change occurs. He said Senate Democrats decided to take the floor on Wednesday because the legislative body had been ignoring the Orlando massacre. Overnight, he ended the filibuster with the story of 6-year-old Dylan Hockley and a teacher’s aide, Anne Marie Murphy, who tried to shield the boy from bullets in the Sandy Hook Elementary massacre; both were two of the 26 individuals killed on December 14, 2012.

Both pending measures Murphy stood behind on the Senate floor are backed by Democrats. The first, an amendment California Senator Dianne Feinstein offered in December after San Bernardino, would allow the government to ban those on federal terror watch lists from buying guns and explosives. Murphy discussed the second on the Senate floor, which would mandate universal background checks for all gun sales, including at gun shows and online.

As for the GOP plan, Republican Texas Senator John Cornyn, the Senate Majority Whip and second-ranking Senate Republican, described a rival proposal on the Senate floor Thursday that would notify law enforcement officials when an individual who is on the terror watch list tries to purchase a firearm. The U.S. Department of Justice then would have 72 hours to show probable cause that the possible buyer has committed or could commit a terrorist act. His proposal, along with Feinstein’s, already was struck down in December after the San Bernardino massacre.

Feinstein and Cornyn now are discussing a way to reach a compromise on their two measures. At the press conference, Feinstein said the Senate likely could vote on her legislation Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Republican Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey, who in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary massacre co-wrote a background checks bill that in April 2013 the Senate ultimately struck down, joined Murphy on the floor Wednesday to urge his colleagues to ensure suspected terrorists can’t buy guns. His legislation would require the attorney general to create an annually adjusted list of likely terrorists who could be blocked from buying guns.

During his filibuster, Murphy permitted questions from 40 of his Democratic colleagues, including Senators Blumenthal, Markey and Charles Schumer. But he never conceded the floor. His efforts were applauded by politicians and activists across the country: Democratic presumptive nominee Hillary Clinton, her rival Bernie Sanders and Erica Lafferty Smegielski, whose mother died at Sandy Hook Elementary, all commended his actions. After the eight-hour mark, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid issued a statement, urging Republicans “to find the courage” to stand up to the National Rifle Association by joining Democrats to demand change. He also called the negotiations “little more than a smokescreen” from the GOP attempting to give themselves political cover while they march in lockstep with the NRA.

It will soon be determined whether the Democrats have found an unexpected ally in Republican presumptive nominee Donald Trump on the matter. The New York billionaire on Twitter Wednesdayexpressed interest in meeting with the NRA to discuss “not allowing people on the terrorist watch list, or the no-fly list, to buy guns.” The lobbying group, which boasts more than 4 million members, responded by saying its leaders are happy to have a conversation with Trump, whom they endorsed in May, but on Wednesday said that its objective remains ensuring that Americans wrongly placed on the list are given their legal rights to due process. Republican leaders share the NRA’s view that stricter gun laws would undercut the Second Amendment.

New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, who also remained in the chamber through the duration of Murphy’s filibuster, on Thursday called on his colleagues to have “courageous empathy” to ensure domestic tranquility because victims aren’t content to wait for change.

“This is a fight that should not belong only to the victims of gun violence,” he said. “This is an American fight.”

Iran Nuclear Deal Is Reached With World Powers

VIENNA — Iran and a group of six nations led by the United States said they had reached a historic accord on Tuesday to significantly limit Tehran’s nuclear ability for more than a decade in return for lifting international oil and financial sanctions.

The deal culminates 20 months of negotiations on an agreement that President Obama had long sought as the biggest diplomatic achievement of his presidency. Whether it portends a new relationship between the United States and Iran — after decades of coups, hostage-taking, terrorism and sanctions — remains a bigger question.

President Obama, in an early morning appearance at the White House that was broadcast live in Iran, began what promised to be an arduous effort to sell the deal to Congress and the American public, saying the agreement was “not built on trust, it is built on verification.”

Not everyone was celebrating the accord. Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, called it a “historic mistake” that would ultimately create a “terrorist nuclear superpower.”

In 18 consecutive days of talks here, American officials said, the United States secured major restrictions on the amount of nuclear fuel that Iran can keep in its stockpile for the next 15 years. It will require Iran to reduce its current stockpile of low enriched uranium by 98 percent, most likely by shipping much of it to Russia.

That measure, combined with a two-thirds reduction in the number of centrifuges spinning at Iran’s primary enrichment center at Natanz, would extend to a year the amount of time it would take Iran to make enough material for a bomb should it abandon the accord and race for a weapon — what officials call “breakout time.”

But American officials acknowledged that after the first decade, the breakout time would begin to shrink. It was unclear how rapidly, because Iran’s longer-term plans to expand its enrichment capability, using a new generation of centrifuges, will be kept confidential by the Iranian government, international inspectors and the other parties to the accord.


Delegates from Iran and a group of six nations led by the United States in Vienna on Tuesday after agreeing to an accord to significantly limit Tehran’s nuclear ability. CreditPool photo by Carlos Barria

Secretary of State John Kerry, who led the negotiations for the United States, sought in his remarks on Tuesday to blunt criticism on this point. “Iran will not produce or acquire highly enriched uranium or plutonium for at least 15 years,” he said. Verification measures, he added, would “stay in place permanently.”

He emphasized that Tehran and the International Atomic Energy Agency had “entered into an agreement to address all questions” about Iran’s past actions within three months, and that completing this task was “fundamental for sanctions relief.”

But it was left unclear whether the inspectors would be able to interview the scientists and engineers who were believed to have been at the center of an effort by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps to design a weapon that Iran could manufacture in short order.

The Obama administration’s assertion that “breakout time” will be extended to a year during the first decade of the accord, a substantial increase from the current estimate of two to three months, has been one of the White House’s selling points for the agreement. But it is also likely to be one of the most contentious questions during debate of the accord in Congress.


President Obama said he would veto any legislation that would block the nuclear agreement with Iran. CreditPool photo by Andrew Harnik

In an interview with NPR in April, Mr. Obama said that in “year 13, 14, 15” of the agreement, the breakout time might shrink “almost down to zero,” as Iran is expected to develop and use advanced centrifuges then.

Pressed on that point, an American official who briefed reporters on Tuesday said that Iran’s long-term plans to expand its enrichment capability would be shared with the International Atomic Energy Agency and other parties to the accord.

While this information is expected to be shared with the United States Congress in classified briefings, it will not be made public.

The official asserted that the reduction in the breakout time would be gradual because Iran’s stockpile of less enriched uranium would be limited for 15 years. But after that period, Iran could have a substantial enrichment capability.


Secretary of State John Kerry led the negotiations for the United States. CreditCarlos Barria/Reuters

“It is going to be a gradual decline,” the official said. “At the end of, say, 15 years, we are not going to know what that is.”

Mr. Obama emphasized that the accord was preferable to the alternate of having no agreement and of an unbridled Iran touching off a nuclear arms race in the Middle East.

“Put simply, no deal means a greater chance of more war in the Middle East,” he said. He added that his successors in the White House “will be in a far stronger position” to restrain Iran for decades to come than they would be without the pact.

As news of a nuclear deal spread across Iran, people there reacted with a mix of jubilation, cautious optimism and disbelief that decades of a seemingly intractable conflict could be coming to an end.

“Have they really reached a deal?” asked Masoud Derakhshani, a 93-year-old widower who had come down to the lobby of his apartment building for his daily newspaper. Mr. Derakhshani remained cautious, even incredulous. “I can’t believe it. They will most probably hit some last minute snag.”

Across Tehran, many Iranians expressed hoped for better economic times after years in which crippling sanctions severely depressed the value of the national currency, the rial. That, in turn, caused inflation and shortages of goods, including vital medicines, and it forced Iranians to carry wads of bank notes to pay for every day items such as meat, rice and beans.

“I am desperate to feed my three sons,” said Ali, a 53-year-old cleaner. “This deal should bring investment for jobs so they can start working for a living.”

National dignity, a central demand of Iran’s leadership, did not matter to him, he said. “I really do not care if this is a victory for us or not,” he added. “I want relations with the West, if we compromised so be it.”

Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, who was elected in 2013 on a platform of ridding the country of the sanctions, made a brief statement, saying that the Iranian people’s “prayers have come true.”

A senior Iranian official in Vienna, speaking to reporters on the condition on anonymity, called the agreement “a good deal that the Iranian people will support,” but added that he was uncertain how it would “translate in the economics of the country.”

One of the last, and most contentious, issues was the question of whether and how fast an arms embargo on conventional weapons and missiles, imposed starting in 2006, would be lifted.

After days of haggling, Mr. Kerry and his Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif, agreed that the missile restrictions would remain for eight years and that a similar ban on the purchase and sale of conventional weapons would be removed in five years.


Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif of Iran after the announcement of a deal in Vienna on Tuesday. CreditLeonhard Foeger/Reuters

Those bans would be removed even sooner if the International Atomic Energy Agency is able to reach a definitive conclusion that the Iraniannuclear program is entirely peaceful, and that there was no evidence of cheating on the accord or any activity to obtain weapons covertly.

The provisions on the arms embargo are expected to dominate the coming debate in Congress on the accord.

Even before the deal was announced, critics expressed fears that Iran would use some of the billions of dollars it will receive in sanctions relief to build up its military power in the region. Iranian officials, however, have said that Iran should be treated like any other nation and not be subjected to an arms embargo if it meets the terms of a nuclear deal.

Mr. Kerry appeared to secure another commitment that was not part of a preliminary agreement, negotiated in Lausanne, Switzerland, in April. Iranian officials agreed here on a multiyear ban on designing warheads and conducting tests, including with detonators and nuclear triggers, that would contribute to the design and manufacture of a nuclear weapon. Accusations that Tehran conducted that kind of research in the past led to a standoff with international inspectors.

Diplomats also came up with unusual procedure to “snap back” the sanctions against Iran if an eight-member panel determines that Tehran is violating the nuclear provisions.

The members of the panel are Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia, the United States, the European Union and Iran itself.

A majority vote is required, meaning that Russia, China and Iran could not collectively block action. The investigation and referral process calls for a time schedule of 65 days, tight compared to the years the atomic energy agency has taken to pursue suspicious activity.

With the announcement of the accord, Mr. Obama has now made major strides toward fundamentally changing the American diplomatic relationships with three nations: Cuba, Iran and Myanmar. Of the three, Iran is the most strategically important, the only one with a nuclear program, and it is still on the

Although some provisions, including the arms embargo, are expected to be especially contentious in Congress, Mr. Obama’s chances of ultimately prevailing are considered high. Even if the accord is voted down by one or both houses, he could veto that action, and he is likely to have the votes he would need to prevail in an effort to override the veto. But he has told aides that for an accord as important as this one — which he hopes will usher in a virtual truce with a country that has been a major American adversary for 35 years — he wants a congressional endorsement.

Mr. Obama will also have to manage the breach Mr.Netanyahu and the leaders of Saudi Arabia and other Arab states who have warned against the deal, saying the relief of sanctions will ultimately empower the Iranians throughout the Middle East.

The announcement comes after years of sanctions and covert cyberattacksto disable Iran’s nuclear program, which Iranian leaders say is only for peaceful purposes.

Mr. Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton, then the secretary of state, began the effort to reach an agreement on the nuclear program by sending aides on secret missions starting in 2012 to meet Iranian diplomats and explore the opening of talks, enraging Israeli officials who had been left in the dark.

A preliminary accord struck in 2013 temporarily froze much of Iran’s program and rolled back the production of a kind of fuel that was closest to bomb grade. The ensuing negotiations have been repeatedly extended and became Mr. Kerry’s single biggest mission. Once-rare American encounters with Iranian diplomats became routine. Along the way, Mr. Kerry has spent more hours with Mr. Zarif than with any other foreign minister.