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Report: Poverty in Rural Counties in KY and Nation On the Rise

November 25, 2009

WHITESBORO, Ky. - Millions of people whose incomes were above the poverty line in the United States less than ten years ago are now living below the poverty line, and a new report from Kentucky's Center for Rural Strategies says a disproportionate number of them live in rural areas.

Center Director Dee Davis says the report - released in his group's publication, the Daily Yonder - uses U.S. Census Bureau figures. It shows that, in 2003, 12.3 percent of urban Americans and 13.9 percent of rural Americans lived below the federal poverty line. By 2008, however, the urban rate had risen to 12.7 percent - but the rural rate had jumped to 16.3 percent. Kentucky's population mirrors that pattern, he adds.

"We've got four Eastern Kentucky counties where the income has slipped below that of Kazakhstan and Uruguay and Cuba, and those are in traditional coal counties where we keep hearing that the economy is going well."

Worst on the list for Kentucky is Clay County, he says, where the report estimates more than 38 percent of residents live in poverty. Clay County's median family income is just over $22,000 a year.

The gap between rural and urban poverty appears to have doubled between 2003 and 2008, although Davis points out that talk of poverty in America ultimately swings to urban areas, perhaps because the problems are more visible to more people.

"The reality is, when you start looking at the number of rural communities in trouble, you see that those numbers are very similar to the urban numbers."

Davis says new ways of earning a living must be developed to change the trend, both in rural Kentucky and the rest of the nation. He believes focusing on renewable fuels and smart use of resources will be part of the solution.

"What we need to do is move away from economies that aren't working in rural areas, and begin to imagine what will work."

To see the full report, visit www.dailyyonder.com.

Tom Joseph, Public News Service - KY