PIKEVILLE, Ky. (AP) - The number of Kentuckians living in poverty rose slightly in 2006, according to Census data released Tuesday.
In 2006, 17 percent of Kentuckians lived below the poverty level, compared with 16.8 percent in 2005. The state jumped from the ninth poorest state in the nation in 2005 to tying Oklahoma at No. 7 in 2006.
The shift counters the national trend: 12.3 percent - or 36.5 million Americans - were living in poverty last year, down from 12.6 percent in 2005.
"We still have a high ranking in poverty," said Ron Crouch, director of the Kentucky State Data Center at the University of Louisville. "We still need to deal with it."
Kentucky remains 45th in the nation in terms of median household income, though Kentuckians are making a bit more money: $39,372 in median household income in 2006 compared with the $37,369 in 2005.
The Census Bureau data found that a slightly larger percentage of Kentucky children and senior citizens lived in poverty in 2006. Ranked 10th (tied with Tennessee) in the country, 22.3 percent of the state's children lived below the poverty level in 2006, compared with 22.1 percent in 2005. Kentucky residents age 65 and older rank fourth nationally, with 13.5 percent living below the poverty level in 2006, compared with 13.3 percent in 2005.
Poverty in Kentucky is concentrated in the southeastern portion of the state - an area that has historically struggled with a lack of jobs and health care. More than 26 percent of the people in that region, defined as the 5th Congressional District, are living below the poverty level.
Nearly a third of the children, 32.5 percent, and 19.8 percent of senior citizens in that region are living in poverty.
The problem is compounded by the fact that more than a half-million Kentuckians don't have health insurance. The Census Bureau reported that in 2006, 13.8 percent of the state isn't covered - a slight increase from the 13.5 percent in 2005.
Kentucky fell below the national average of 15.8 percent. The number of uninsured Americans went up from 44.8 million in 2005 to 47 million in 2006.
"I don't see this as an appreciable increase - 13.5 to 13.8," said Mark Birdwhistell, secretary of the Health and Family Services Cabinet. "That's consistently under the national average and indicative of many of the initiatives we've had implemented over the last three years."
For example, he cited a recently implemented program that helped give 1,100 people employed in small business health care coverage.
However, Dr. Baretta Casey of the University of Kentucky Center for Rural Health said access to health insurance remain a huge problem, especially for eastern Kentucky.
"I truly believe it's very difficult for people to get health insurance," Casey said. "Many times on a fixed income, they have to make the decision between food and clothes and health and medication."
--- On the Net: www.census.gov
(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)