KY Policy Blog

Kentucky Weak in Some Aspects of Poverty and Opportunity, Strong in Others

By Dustin Pugel
February 29, 2016

A new report from the Center for American Progress (CAP) ranks how well the states have addressed the problems facing low-income families through 16 indicators. Kentucky’s results are mixed, with high school graduation rates, available affordable housing, the gender wage gap and health insurance coverage putting Kentucky ahead of most other states, but the state falls behind most of the rest of the country in 12 other indicators.

Back of the pack:

  • Kentucky ranks 48th out of the states and DC for food insecurity. Between 2012 and 2014, 17.5 percent of households in Kentucky experienced difficulty affording enough food at some point.
  • It ranks 47th in the country for the poverty rate; nearly one in five Kentuckians lives below the federal poverty line, or $24,000 for a family of four. One in four children live below the poverty line, putting Kentucky at 42nd in that category.
  • When it comes to the reliance on high-risk forms of credit to make ends meet, Kentucky ranks 40th, because 8.9 percent of Kentuckians had to rely on risky products like payday loans, rent-to-own, or pawning to make ends meet.

Front of the pack:

  • For every 100 renters who made 50 percent or less than the area median income, there were 77 available apartments they could afford.
  • Kentucky ties for 10th place in high school graduation rates with 6 other states. In the 2012-2013 school year, 86 percent of high school students graduated on time. This is in stark contrast, however, to the 34.8 percent of adults aged 25-34 who have a degree in higher education, placing the state among the bottom 10 in the country.
  • Recent leaps Kentucky has made in health care coverage were highlighted as a model in the report. The Commonwealth has the 11th lowest uninsured portion of its population in the country. With a successful state exchange and expanded Medicaid enrolling nearly half a million people, the 2014 uninsured rate was 14.9 percent (a number that has continued to fall), far below the national average that year of 23.2 percent.

The report gives a good glimpse at how Kentucky is addressing the needs of its most vulnerable citizens. Because of policy changes in health care and education, the Commonwealth has become a leader in the nation in some ways; these improvements should be protected and reinforced. However, recent rollbacks in programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (commonly known as food stamps), failure to raise the statewide minimum wage, lax regulation on predatory lending practices, a decade of disinvestment in higher education, and jeopardized healthcare gains continue to strip away the opportunity for low-income families to prosper.

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