Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV


August 27, 2008

Poverty report — Appalachian statistics are still appalling

The report of an increase in Appalachian residents living in poverty last year should come as no great surprise. But that does not make the news that 114,000 more individuals in the region have now reached this economic low any easier to accept.

Appalachia is now home to 13.3 million people living in poverty, according to U.S. Census Bureau figures released Tuesday.

Along with West Virginia and Virginia, the Appalachian region also includes parts of Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Maryland, Mississippi, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Tennessee.

Eternal optimists can find good news in the report. The number of people in the region who did not have health insurance last year fell to 13.6 million from 13.7 million from the year before, and median incomes were up in all the Appalachian states, where the median income ranged from a little over $36,000 in Mississippi to $68,080 in Maryland.

Of course, other than Maryland, Virginia and New York, these incomes are significantly lower than the national median of $50,233.

In West Virginia and Virginia, it was difficult to find any uplifting news in the report.

West Virginia’s poverty rate did improve to 16.9 percent from 17.3 percent the year before, but it still tied with Alabama for the sixth highest poverty rate in the country, according to an Associated Press story on the report.

Also, while the Mountain State’s median income of $37,060 is almost $1,000 more than the year before, it’s still the second lowest median household income in the country. Mississippi had the lowest median income at $36,338 — a little less than $700 than West Virginia.

But although we’re the second poorest state in the country, Ted Boettner, executive director of the West Virginia Center on Budget & Policy, said the numbers were generally good for the state. “Poverty’s down, incomes are up and health coverage is basically stagnant, except for children, where we’ve seen dramatic decreases,” he said.

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