Kentucky poverty rate is fifth highest in U.S., but a larger share of Kentuckians had health insurance in 2012 than in 2011

By Molly Burchett
Kentucky Health News

In 2012, as U.S. incomes remained lower and poverty rates higher than in 2007, the year before the recession, Kentucky poverty rates increased and one in four Kentucky children were living in poverty, according to estimates released Thursday by the U.S. Census Bureau. However, the percentage of Kentuckians with health insurance increased.

Kentucky had the fifth highest percentage of residents living in poverty (19.4 percent) in 2012, up from 18.8 percent in 2011. It ranked behind Mississippi (24.2 percent), New Mexico (20.8), Louisiana (19.9) and Arkansas (19.8). However, it was statistically tied with the last two states for third place because the error margin for the estimates is plus or minus 0.5 percentage points. Nationally, 2012 was the second straight year that the U.S. poverty rate had failed to improve. It remained at 15 percent, with 46.5 million people earning at or below the federal poverty line. Click here for an interactive poverty rate map from Stateline.

These findings highlight the challenges that Kentuckians face regarding economic security relative to the rest of the country. The high poverty rate should also act as a warning since it presages troubles with education, health and other areas, Terry Brooks, director of Kentucky Youth Advocatestold Chris Kenning of The Courier-Journal.

The figures are three-year rolling averages from the American Community Survey, a continuing poll of Americans. It estimated that 595,260 Kentuckians were uninsured in 2012, indicating an uninsured rate decline to 13.9 percent, from 14.7 percent. Overall, the U.S. uninsured rate dropped from 15.7 in 2011 to 15.4 percent in 2012, with the number of the uninsured statistically unchanged at 48 million. Insured rates tend to rise as employment rises.

Among the estimated 1 million Kentucky households earning less than $25,000 a year, 22.6 percent do not have health coverage. Kentuckians aged 19 to 25 had the highest percentage of unisureds for a specific age group; about 400,000 Kentuckians are in that group, and 28.1 percent of them are uninsured.

The national decline in the uninsured rate was modest compared to a bigger drop in 2011 that resulted from the federal health reform law that allowed people 26 or younger to be covered on their parents’ plans. The slight dip in the national uninsured rate for 2012 was due mostly to increases in government coverage, such as Medicaid and Medicare.

Nationally, the coverage by employer-provided health insurance for people under 65 remained stable. Kentucky, Michigan and Vermont were the only states to see a statistically significant increase in the rate of private health insurance coverage from 2010 to 2012.

The Census Bureau’s American FactFinder report generator provides specific information about health insurance coverage.  For example, the chart below comes from a report about the types of health insurance coverage for specific age groups, and it shows estimates of the types of coverage for Kentuckians ages from 35 through 64.

When the main provisions of the health law take effect in 2014, expansion of the state Medicaid program with federal money is expected to provide free health care to as many as 308,000 Kentuckians at up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level — currently $15,856 for an individual or $32,499 for a family of four.

The state will also offer federal tax credits for Kentuckians who lack job-based health insurance and buy private coverage through the new state health insurance exchange, Kynect, which opens for enrollment on Oct 1. Click here to read more about Kynect or to check your eligibility for coverage or subsidies.

Earlier, the Census Bureau reported there were 46.5 million people in the U.S. living in poverty median household income remained steady from the year before and was $51,017. Kentucky had a median household income of $46,362 in 2012, compared to the U.S. median of $51,371.  Click here for an interactive median income map from Stateline.

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