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Income Up in KY, but Poverty Rate Remains Among Highest in Nation

New census figures say Kentucky's median income is up as more people are working, but the state still has one of the nation's highest poverty rates. (Greg Stotelmyer)
New census figures say Kentucky's median income is up as more people are working, but the state still has one of the nation's highest poverty rates. (Greg Stotelmyer)
September 16, 2016

FRANKFORT, Ky. - Kentucky continues to have one of the highest poverty rates in the nation, showing only slight improvement in 2015. New Census Bureau figures show 18.5 percent of Kentuckians lived in poverty last year, down six-tenths of a percent from 2014, but still higher than just before the recession hit.

Jason Bailey, the executive director for the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy, said there's a lot of work left to do to address the core challenges of poverty.

"We need to be raising the minimum wage, so families have more to live on," he said. "We need to be making college more affordable, so folks can get the credentials they need to move up. We need to be investing in Eastern Kentucky more at the federal level, so that that region can transition to new opportunities."

Kentucky's poverty rate is even worse among children and African Americans. The Census Bureau estimates one-fourth of children (25.5%) live in poverty and nearly a third (30.8%) of the state's black population.

Adrienne Bush, executive director of Community Ministries is on the front lines in Hazard, where her group provides child care and other services. She said while improvements have been made to address childhood poverty and expand child-care assistance, it's still hard to "move the needle."

"There is reason for optimism, because we are doing some really cool things in Kentucky, but at the same time, we are under-investing in these programs that we know work," she said.

Danielle Bozarth is the programs director with God's Pantry, which distributes food to the hungry in 50 eastern and central Kentucky counties. She said they see firsthand the cycle of generational poverty.

"Things definitely haven't gotten slower in regards to feeding people," she said. "Children and seniors are the two most vulnerable."

On the positive side, Bailey said the census numbers show wages are growing and unemployment is going down as median household incomes in Kentucky rose by over $2,000 last year. But there's still a "regional divide."

"The more urban parts of the state, their economies have recovered, they're growing quickly, wages are growing, folks are better off; in the more rural parts of the state, there's been job loss and nothing has come in to replace those jobs," Bailey said.

The report also found Kentucky is one of eight states where income inequality increased last year.

Greg Stotelmyer , Public News Service - KY