All Kentucky children should have a chance at success, but many face obstacles that make their journey more difficult. Many families do not make enough money to fulfill their children’s basic needs, such as shelter, food, and health care. Kentucky’s rate of child poverty is staggeringly high, but hides the fact that many families living above the federal poverty level still struggle to make ends meet. Families with incomes above the poverty line may be able to pay their bills but often face other financial stressors, like a car that won’t start or a refrigerator that won’t cool, which means that money intended for school supplies or shoes for kids can easily disappear. Families can quickly fall behind without steady economic stability.
The latest data on median family income reveals that many Kentucky families are likely experiencing such problems. Median income is the middle point of the range of family incomes: half of all families earn more and half earn less. From 2008-2012, median family income in Kentucky was $53,833. Only 14 states have median family incomes lower than Kentucky. Median family incomes vary widely across Kentucky counties. Oldham and Boone Counties have the highest median family incomes at $92,895 and $78,286, respectively, while the lowest median family incomes (less than $30,000) are found in Jackson, Owsley, and Wolfe Counties. Check out this Family Budget Calculator to see if the median family income for your county would provide a secure yet modest standard of living in your Kentucky community.
Though Kentucky’s median family income has increased slightly over the years, not all Kentucky families are taking home bigger paychecks. Since the late 1970s, income inequality increased more in Kentucky than all but three other states. From the late 1990s to mid 2000s, the poorest fifth of Kentucky residents saw a 17.2 percent drop in household incomes and the middle fifth saw a 6.2 percent drop, yet the richest 5% were able to maintain their incomes.Source: Economic Policy Institute/Center on Budget and Policy Priorities
Widening income inequality contributes to income immobility, leaving future generations stuck in a cycle of poverty. A recent study verifies what we have known about child well-being for quite some time – location matters greatly in the lottery of life. It is not impossible for a poor child to move up the income ladder as they grow older, but the chances for doing so depend greatly on geography. Economic mobility varies across the state, but in all of the Kentucky cities studied, the odds of moving from the bottom fifth to the top fifth of the income ladder are less than 15 percent.
There are many steps Kentucky can take to increase family income and economic security. One step the General Assembly can take during the current legislative session is to restore funding to the Child Care Assistance Program so the income eligibility threshold can increase and more low-income working families can maintain jobs because they can afford child care. Also, enacting a state earned income credit would allow working families to keep more of their hard-earned dollars.
Stay tuned for another KIDS COUNT Data Point of the Month blog post in February!