Despite the continued economic growth of recent years, median income and poverty rates for Kentuckians remained flat in 2018 compared to 2017, according to new American Community Survey data released today by the U.S. Census Bureau. Poverty and median income were not statistically different between the two years, suggesting that low- and middle-income Kentuckians are not benefiting as they should from the historically long economic expansion.
In contrast to Kentucky, 14 states saw an increase in income and 14 states saw a decrease in poverty rates over the last year.
Kentucky’s poverty rate was 16.9% in 2018, with more than 730,000 Kentuckians whose income was below the poverty level – which is $25,750 for a family of 4 in 2018, for example. Due to historical barriers to education, employment and the ability to accumulate wealth, disparities by race persist. Poverty was worse for black Kentuckians at 28.1% and Latino/Hispanic Kentuckians at 24.8% in 2018 compared to white Kentuckians at 15.4%.
Poverty remained high for other key groups of Kentuckians as well. The child poverty rate for Kentucky was statistically unchanged at 23% in 2018. The poverty rate in the 5th Congressional District of eastern Kentucky was 26.5% (a statistically significant decrease from 2017, though it still ranks the 4th poorest district in the country).
“Instead of taking actions to lower poverty and increase incomes like raising the minimum wage, Kentucky has been making it harder to get by through barriers to vital food and health assistance programs like SNAP and Medicaid,” Policy Analyst with the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy, Dustin Pugel said. “Harmful policy choices have meant that, for most Kentuckians, progress has stalled out – and it was never enough to begin with.”
In 2018, the median household in Kentucky had $50,247 in income, a statistically insignificant increase from 2017 once inflation is taken into account. It’s not enough to live on: According to the Economic Policy Institute, a family of 4 in Bowling Green, for instance, needs about $77,000 in annual income to ensure a “modest yet adequate standard of living” based on housing, food, childcare, transportation and other costs.
Making matters worse, after years of progress, the number of Kentuckians without health insurance rose in recent years, almost certainly due in part to federal efforts to weaken public health coverage – such as the repeal of the individual mandate and federal cuts to marketing, outreach and enrollment assistance on the ACA marketplace – and possibly due to changes in the state’s enrollment processes. The share of uninsured Kentuckians grew by a statistically significant amount from 5.1% in 2016 to 5.6% in 2018 (according to Census data released earlier this month).
“With the ranks of the uninsured already rising, we should not be erecting barriers to Medicaid that would cause at least 100,000 Kentuckians to lose health insurance and be one medical issue away from financial ruin,” Pugel said.
“All of us benefit from policy choices that improve economic security and Kentuckians’ ability to get a degree, stay healthy and care for loved ones,” Pugel said. “We move forward together by removing barriers for people of color, people living in distressed rural areas and Kentucky kids; not by making it ever more difficult to get by.”