The High Cost of Poverty in Kentucky

by John Gregory | 03/03/14 2:34 PM

Anyone who's ever heard Ron Crouch speak knows he has a vast array of facts and figures at his fingertips. Crouch is demographer and director of research and statistics in the Office of Employment and Training for the Kentucky Education and Workforce Development Cabinet. In a recent conversation with Renee Shaw on Connections, Crouch highlighted the challenges of poverty and income inequality in the state. Here are several key takeaways from the conversation:

Who Lives in Poverty
The population growth in the Commonwealth between 2000 and 2010 came among African Americans and Hispanics. At the same time, those individuals are more likely to live in poverty. In Kentucky, 34 percent of blacks and 33 percent of Hispanics are below the poverty line, compared to 17 percent for whites. The poverty statistics for children under five years old are even more dramatic: 56 percent for African Americans, 48 percent for Hispanics, and 26 percent for whites.

"Those young black and Hispanic kids are going to be our future," says Crouch. "If you want to collect social security and have a good social safety net out there, we need to make sure we're taking care of all of our kids, regardless of their skin color."

Who Pays the Taxes
According to Crouch, the top 1 percent of Kentuckians make an average income of $759,000 per year and pay a 5.7 percent tax rate. Meanwhile the bottom 20 percent earn an average income of $8,500, yet they pay a 9.1 percent tax rate. Crouch says that's not only unfair, but an inefficient way to generate revenue for the public good.

"We need a progressive tax system where we can invest in the things we need to invest in to be a great state and a great country."

Who Makes a Living Wage
While some legislators push to increase the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour, that still may not be enough for many poor families. According to a living wage calculator created by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, one adult living with one child in Kentucky needs to make $16 an hour to have a living wage. Unfortunately, Crouch doesn't see many higher paying jobs in the state's future.

"Our occupational projections show that 71 percent of new jobs created in Kentucky between now and 2020 require a high school degree or less," Crouch says.

Who Gets Public Assistance
Only 10 percent of children in poverty in Kentucky actually receive welfare support. Only 5 percent of kids born to unwed mothers in the state receive welfare. The average Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) grant made in the Commonwealth is $237 month. While wages and benefits continue to decline for many workers, Crouch says government has invested too little in poverty eradication.

"The middle class has to wake up. They need to stop attacking the poor and start saying we need a fair, equal system where everbody has a fair shot."

Watch the full Connections program.