Census data paints bleak economic picture in Kentucky

vhoneycutt@herald-leader.comSeptember 23, 2011 

New data from the U.S. Census Bureau on Thursday painted a bleak picture of Kentucky's economic health.

Household income is down. Poverty is up. Low-paying jobs are replacing higher-paying jobs. Use of food stamps and publicly funded health care is up.

Median household income fell in Kentucky in 2010 from the previous year by $778 and the share of the state's households that earn annual incomes between $10,000 and $25,000 is increasing, according to the data.

"The recession technically ended a long time ago, but employment has not recovered. As a result we are seeing people's income decline," said Jason Bailey, director of the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy.

The middle class is shrinking in Kentucky and a greater share of people are low-income, Bailey said.

In Kentucky, 22.1 percent of households made between $10,000 and $25,000 a year in 2010, compared with 20.7 percent in 2009. Nationally, 17.3 percent of households made that amount in 2010.

Kentucky's median household income — half of all households have more income and half have less — declined from $40,840 in 2009 to $40,062 in 2010.

Kentucky had a 19 percent poverty rate in 2010, compared with 18.6 percent in 2009. Nationally, the poverty rate in 2010 was 15.3, compared with 14.3 in 2009.

Also, one in four children in Kentucky are now living in poverty, defined as a family of four with a household income below $22,050 a year, according to the data. Child poverty in Kentucky increased to 26.3 percent in 2010 from 20.8 percent in 2000, bringing the total number of children living in poverty to 262,760.

In Fayette County, the percent of children living in poverty increased to 26.5 percent in 2010 from 14.7 percent in 2000.

"My fear is that we as a state will accept these numbers as 'Kentucky being Kentucky,'" said Terry Brooks, executive director of Kentucky Youth Advocates. "That will not suffice as a response for children and families today nor will it suffice as a way to think about the future."

Bailey said the data also show that the share of people in Kentucky who work in construction and manufacturing has declined since 2007. Those two industries are traditional sources of middle-class incomes. A larger share of people now work in retail trade, which pays less.

In addition, 16.6 percent of Kentuckians in 2010 received Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, up from 15.1 percent in 2009. Nearly one-third of Kentuckians received health insurance through a public source, increasing to 32.6 from 31.8 percent in the previous year.

The data come from the Census Bureau's American Community Survey (ACS) one-year estimates for 2010.

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