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Census: KY Population Growing Along with Poverty Numbers

December 29, 2010

FRANKFORT, Ky. - More and more Kentuckians are struggling to make ends meet, according to U.S. Census numbers that show a modest growth in population, and more people trapped in poverty. The American Community Survey reports 18 percent of Kentuckians are among the most economically disadvantaged in the country, with poor residents in eastern portions of the state suffering the most. Rob Jones, executive director of Community Action Kentucky, says there's more to those numbers than meets the eye.

"There are a lot of people that are showing up as employed, but really aren't earning the living that they had been before or had expected to, coming out of school, with the training they had invested in."

According to the data, 13 counties – mostly in eastern Kentucky – have median household incomes of less than $25,000 a year, accounting for one-third of the nation's counties with that troubling distinction.

Jones says the census data also reveals one eastern Kentucky county with the lowest percentage of college graduates in the nation. Only 4.6 percent of Owsley County residents have earned a bachelor's degree.

"It's a county that is just extremely poor right now, and historically had issues with getting good industry, getting good jobs into their area. It certainly is going to slow them down; and it slows that part of the state down, that they are unable to get the training and development of their workforce that they need."

Jones says micro-lending and business development programs can rescue many from poverty's grip - but only if policymakers embrace those ideas.

"A lot of people out there have some good ideas and some skills, and need just the basic, minimal capital it would take them to get into business and get started – and get, not only them back in the workforce, but lift our businesses and get more people employed in those businesses."

Tighter regulations that would reduce the high interest rates on payday loans would also get people off the debt carousel that keeps them in poverty, adds Jones.

Renee Shaw, Public News Service - KY