Income Up in KY, but Poverty Rate Remains Among Highest in Nation

Kentucky Makes Strides in Income, Health Coverage and Education, Census Data Shows

Income Rises for Kentucky Households in 2015 but Progress Needed to Reduce Poverty

New Census data released today shows median household incomes in Kentucky rose by over $2,000 in Kentucky last year, evidence of an improving economy with rising wages for workers. However, the number of Kentuckians in poverty continues to be too high and some rural parts of the state are showing little progress.

Median household income in Kentucky rose from $43,014 in 2014 to $45,215 in 2015, an increase of 5 percent, according to the report. That reflects both a fall in the unemployment rate and a rise in median earnings for workers. The poverty rate declined from 19.1 percent to 18.5 percent, but the decrease was not statistically significant.

While the rise in incomes was good news, the state still falls short relative to where it stood before the Great Recession hit in 2007—when poverty was at 17.2 percent — and when the economy was at full employment in 2000, when poverty was 16.4 percent. In addition, Kentucky’s child poverty rate in 2015 was 25.5 percent, up from 23.4 percent in 2007.

“It’s great news to see incomes rising for Kentucky households after wages have been stagnant for most of the last 15 years,”  Jason Bailey, executive director of the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy, said. “However, we still have progress to make before we can say the economy as a whole is fully recovered and we have longstanding inequalities that need to be addressed.”

Disparities in terms of region, race and other factors remain across Kentucky.

  • Median incomes improved in 2015 in the 3rd and 6th Congressional Districts — including the biggest cities of Lexington and Louisville — as well as the 1st District in far western Kentucky, but not in other districts.
  • Poverty in the 5th Congressional District of eastern Kentucky was at 28.9 percent with no statistically significant improvement from 29.2 percent last year. Child poverty in the district stood statistically unchanged at 39.7 percent.
  • The African American poverty rate in Kentucky remained high at 30.8 percent compared to a 16.8 percent poverty rate for white Kentuckians. Median incomes did rise for African American Kentuckians in 2015.

“We need to do more to build thriving communities,” Bailey said. “We should be raising the minimum wage state-wide, improving education and making college more affordable, advancing criminal justice reform and increasing federal investment in eastern Kentucky to help the region’s economic transition.”

Bevin Medicaid Plan Debated at Forum

Bevin Medicaid Plan Debated at Forum

by Deborah Yetter

Proposed Medicaid Changes Could Affect More Than 1 Million Kentuckians

Kentucky’s Uninsured Rate Down to 6% and Obamacare Gets The Credit

New Census Data Keeps Kentucky As Top State in Health Insurance Coverage, Thanks to Medicaid Expansion

New Census data released today shows Kentucky’s historic progress in reducing the share of Kentuckians without health insurance coverage has continued to grow. The new American Community Survey (ACS) data shows Kentucky’s rate dropped 8.3 percentage points between 2013 and 2015, thanks to our state’s decision to expand Medicaid and set up the successful Kynect marketplace.

Kentucky is one of only four states with at least an eight percentage point drop in the uninsured since 2013, along with California, West Virginia and Nevada.

According to the Census, 355,000 more Kentuckians had health insurance in 2015 than prior to Medicaid expansion and the creation of Kynect. While 14.3 percent were uninsured in 2013 and 8.5 percent in 2014, only 6 percent were uninsured in 2015.

“Affordable, reliable healthcare is essential to any thriving community,” Jason Bailey, Executive Director of the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy, said. “These numbers are another piece of evidence that Kentucky is a national leader in health coverage, which isn’t just a ranking, it’s changing people’s lives.”

The expansion has meant more Kentuckians have been able to get needed care for chronic conditions, make and keep primary care appointments, use the emergency room less and be more likely to report having excellent health according to a Harvard School of Public Health study published in August. Not only has the decision to expand Medicaid in many states resulted in a greater number of people covered, but it has meant private health insurance premiums are seven percent lower on average in expansion states when compared to states that did not expand, according to a report from the Department for Health and Human Services (HHS).

There are significant economic benefits as well. Hospitals have seen a $2 billion reduction in charges for uncompensated care thanks to Medicaid expansion and the state is projected to save a net of $53.6 million during the next two fiscal years due to expansion paying for health services state agencies would otherwise be responsible for covering, according to analysis from the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services. And as of July of this year Kentucky has added 11,500 health care and hospital jobs in the last two years as coverage from Medicaid expansion has grown.

“Because Kentucky has seen the greatest gains, we also have the most to lose if harmful changes to Medicaid are approved,” Bailey said of the proposed waiver that was recently submitted to federal officials. The plan introduces barriers to coverage like premiums, lockouts and work requirements that would reduce the number of Kentuckians covered. “Our hope is that the Bevin administration will negotiate in earnest with the federal government to find a way to build on our successes and not move backward on our health progress.”

You can view the data here.

Kentucky’s Gender Wage Gap Is Narrowing, Report Says

New State Report Shows Little to No Progress on Achievement Gaps

The Council on Postsecondary Education’s latest accountability report, which was released yesterday, shows Kentucky has continued to make little to no progress on some important higher education measures. While the state has increased the number of degrees and credentials earned each year since the baseline year, achievement gaps remain for low-income, underrepresented minority and academically underprepared students.

Here are some highlights from the report, which focuses on progress made in 2013-2014 toward meeting the goals set out in the state’s 2011-2015 Strategic Agenda for Postsecondary and Adult Education.

Increase in total degrees and credentials conferred

Between 2010 and 2014 the total degrees and credentials conferred at Kentucky’s public and independent institutions grew from 55,107 to 65,481. The number of bachelor’s degrees and associate degrees have also gone up. These increases are good for Kentucky overall as we seek to develop a more educated and skilled workforce.

Little to no progress in graduation rates for low-income, underrepresented minority and academically underprepared students

Increases in graduation rates for all students have been modest, but of particular concern is the state’s overall lack of progress in addressing the gaps in graduation rates for low-income, underrepresented minority and academically underprepared students — as seen in the tables below.

With six-year bachelor’s degree graduation rates, academically underprepared students have lost ground and the gains for low-income and underrepresented minority students are modest and below the targets set by the state.


Source: Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education’s 2013-14 Accountability Report. The baseline year is 2010 for the state’s overall bachelor’s graduation rate but 2011 for the graduation rate for low-income students and 2009 for minority students and underprepared students.

In terms of three-year associate graduation rates, there was no improvement for low-income students and minority students have actually experienced a decline. While there was an increase in associate degree graduation for academically underprepared students, the state is still below its target on this measure.


Source: Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education’s 2013-14 Accountability Report.

Context of state budget cuts

Certainly the state’s budget cuts to higher educational institutions play an important role in the state’s lack of progress in addressing achievement gaps, and the accountability report itself notes the declines in state funding and in the state’s ability to assist qualified low-income students with need-based aid.

As we’ve described previously, Kentucky is among the worst in the country for per-student cuts in public higher education. These cuts, which have led to tuition hikes and reductions in student services, are having the biggest impact on low-income and minority students. Greater state investment in higher education in Kentucky is part of the formula to make much-needed progress in addressing achievement gaps.

Criminal Justice Reform and Racial Disparities in Kentucky

Nationally, the racial disparities that exist in the criminal justice system are well-known, with African Americans being overrepresented in prisons and jails. These racial disparities are also present in Kentucky’s criminal justice system, which is one reason why it is so important the state move forward with needed reforms.

Despite the majority of inmates in Kentucky being white, African Americans are disproportionately represented in the state’s criminal justice system. African Americans are eight percent of the adult population but:

According to the Department of Public Advocacy, the rate of imprisonment is: 460 white inmates for every 100,000 whites in the population and 1,479 African Americans for every 100,000 African Americans in the population. In other words, African Americans in Kentucky are 3.2 times more likely to be in prison than whites.

Causes and Implications of Disproportionate Representation in Criminal Justice System

Rather than one racial group simply being more likely than another to commit crimes, the causes of the racial disparities in the criminal justice system are much more complex. Research on the topic points in part to policies and practices such as those related to the “war on drugs,” as well as implicit bias and stereotypes in decision-making, that have a disparate impact on African Americans. For example, even though whites and African Americans use illegal drugs at roughly the same rate, nationally African Americans are nearly 4 times as likely as whites to be arrested for drug offenses and 2.5 times as likely to be arrested for drug possession. African Americans are more likely to be searched by police after being stopped, more likely to be detained pre-trial, which makes it more likely that they will be convicted and sentenced to longer prison terms, and more likely to be charged by prosecutors under state habitual offender laws. On top of that, prosecutors have been known to exclude African Americans from jury service.

Other drivers of these racial disparities in the criminal justice system are structural disadvantages in communities of color that can lead to higher rates of offending and arrest.

These patterns mean that African American individuals, families and communities are experiencing the collateral consequences of incarceration at greater rates — including children having an incarcerated parent, the lack of economic opportunities resulting from a criminal background and disenfranchisement from voting.

Racial Inequities in Kentucky Criminal Justice Data

Kentucky’s Public Advocate has highlighted data that indicates some policies and practices may contribute to racial inequity in Kentucky’s criminal justice system.

African American juveniles may be more likely to face more serious charges for similar crimes. As seen in the table below, 63 percent of juvenile public defender clients charged with 1st degree robbery in 2016 are African American, compared to just 35 percent who are white. For 2nd degree robbery, 54 percent are African American. However, for the much lesser charge of theft by unlawful taking, just 22 percent are African American and 75 percent are white.

Racial Breakdown of Juvenile Prosecutions in Which Public Defenders Provided Representation


Source: Fiscal year 2016 data from the Department of Public Advocacy. The sentences listed here are for adults but are included in order to give a sense of how these charges vary in seriousness of penalties. However, juveniles — even those tried as adults — do not necessarily receive these sentences.

According to the Public Advocate, this data raises “disturbing questions of racial disparity,” including: Are African American juveniles who steal more likely than white juveniles to be charged with robbery instead of theft?

Department of Public Advocacy data also shows that African American juveniles are more likely to be tried as adults in cases where public defenders provided representation — 53 percent of these juvenile offenders in 2014 and 2015 were African American and 44 percent were White. This trend is related to African American offenders being more likely to receive a more serious (and transferable) charge. More than one in four of these cases originated in Fayette County, where 23 (or 88.5 percent) of the transferred juveniles were African American and just one (3.8 percent) were White. Half of those transferred were charged with Robbery 1st Degree.

In addition, whites have a greater tendency to face the lesser charge of heroin possession as opposed to trafficking compared to African Americans. In heroin prosecutions of Kentucky adults in fiscal year 2016, 96 percent charged with possession are white while those charged with the much more serious charge of trafficking are 22 percent to 51 percent African American depending on the specific charge (i.e., Class D, Class C or Class B Felony). The state’s Public Advocate poses the following question regarding this data: Are white addicts being charged with possession, meaning they are eligible for drug court, deferred prosecution, pre-trial release and possible expungement, while black addicts are more likely to be charged with trafficking? “Put bluntly, is there more compassion felt for white addicts that is not felt for black addicts?”

Reforms That Promote Greater Equity

Reforms to Kentucky’s criminal justice system, including those being discussed by the recently formed state Criminal Justice Policy Assessment Council (CJPAC), can help reduce such racial disparities. These include common sense reforms that would reduce mass incarceration. Representative Yonts’s proposed legislation in the 2016 session would have enacted some of these changes — for instance, making low level misdemeanors a violation and making low level felonies a misdemeanor. The bill is expected to be reintroduced in 2017.