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Measurements show poverty worsened in Kentucky

The number of Kentuckians living in poverty last year increased only slightly, from 17 percent of the population in 2006 to 17.3 percent in 2007, according to a U.S. Census Bureau report.

A much bigger increase was seen in the percentage of people without health insurance, rising from 13 percent in 2004-2005 to 14.6 percent in 2006-2007. Insurance rates are measured over two-year periods.

Overall, Kentucky ranks 48th among states in income, compared with 45th in 2006. It is the fifth-highest state in terms of the number of people living in poverty.

In reaction to the report, the state's leading child-advocacy group says that families in the state are faring far worse over time. Kentucky's poverty rate has risen significantly since 2001, when it was 15.4 percent, Terry Brooks, executive director of Kentucky Youth Advocates, said in a press release.

Median household income in the state also dropped last year and is below the national average of $50,233, according to census figures released Tuesday.

However, Kenneth Troske, director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Kentucky, said that although Kentucky is a poor state, he doubts we've grown poorer this past year.

"I don't know whether or not the census numbers are correct, but they just don't fit with other data we have on the state's economy," Troske said.

Troske said there was a 2.3 percent increase in the amount of goods and services produced in Kentucky in 2007, according to national figures.

Brooks, of Kentucky Youth Advocates, said the census numbers on poverty are cause for alarm.

"Despite several years of economic growth, Kentucky's families actually lost ground in reducing poverty, improving health coverage or increasing family incomes," Brooks said.

"Now that the economy has weakened, things are likely to get worse ... for the most vulnerable of Kentuckians," he said.

More children younger than 18 were living in poverty in 2007, 23.4 percent, compared with 22.3 percent in 2006.

Kentucky's median household income decreased from $40,489 in 2006 to $40,267 in 2007.

Real median household income (adjusted for inflation) climbed 1.3 percent between 2006 and 2007 for the United States, reaching the $50,233 mark, according to the Census Bureau. The nation's official poverty rate in 2007 was 12.5 percent, not statistically different from 2006. There were 37.3 million people in poverty in 2007, up from 36.5 million in 2006, the report said.

Brooks said that Kentucky lawmakers should enact a state earned-income-tax credit, curb predatory lending practices, and eliminate the need for for working families to enroll their children in the Kentucky Children's Health Insurance Program in person.

Then, he said, "the poverty landscape in our state will dramatically change for the better."