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Census Bureau Report Shows Slight Improvement in KY Poverty Rate

PHOTO: Figures show an improving economy in 2013, according to the Census Bureau, but some experts caution the recovery is still not adding up to financial security for many middle and low-income Kentuckians. Photo by Greg Stotelmyer.
PHOTO: Figures show an improving economy in 2013, according to the Census Bureau, but some experts caution the recovery is still not adding up to financial security for many middle and low-income Kentuckians. Photo by Greg Stotelmyer.
September 19, 2014

FRANKFORT, Ky. - The latest Census Bureau report shows an improving economy in 2013 but some experts caution the recovery is too slow to help the living standards of many middle and low-income Americans. In Kentucky, 18.8 percent of the people lived in poverty last year. That's down from 19.4 percent in 2012. Jason Bailey, director of the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy, says too many people are still struggling to afford the basics.

"Paying for housing, paying for transportation, paying for child care, being able to go back to school and get the education you need, all of these things are very difficult," says Bailey.

Nationwide, the poverty rate was at 14.5 percent last year, more than four full percentage points lower than in Kentucky.

The census report also shows a substantial decline in child poverty nationwide dropping from nearly 22 percent in 2012 to below 20 percent last year. Robert Greenstein is president of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

"The census data indicate that the child poverty drop in 2013 was driven largely by a rise in employment and earnings among parents," Greenstein says.

But, in Kentucky more than a quarter of the children, 25.3 percent, lived in poverty last year. The Census report prompted Kentucky Youth Advocates to renew its call for a state Earned Income Tax Credit. The advocacy group says that would allow working families to keep more of their income which could be "a first-step solution to move kids out of poverty."

Bailey says increasing the state's minimum wage is another way to enhance economic security for the working poor.

"The minimum wage has lost about one fourth of its value because it's not been kept over the years, it's not been increased to keep up with inflation," he says.

While Bailey calls it a "no brainer" to increase the minimum from $7.25 an hour to $10.10, the conservative think tank, Bluegrass Institute, disagrees. In the words of economist Dr. Eric Schansberg, who is on the institute's Board of Scholars, "The minimum wage makes it more expensive to hire people," he says.

Greg Stotelmyer , Public News Service - KY