LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- In the years after the Great Recession, Jefferson County struggled to shake off sluggish income growth and rising poverty. In 2012, some four years after the recession ended, the county’s 18 percent poverty rate was its highest since 1960.
But data released Thursday shows that fewer people are living in the poorest conditions, while household incomes continue to increase. In both cases, those figures are at levels not seen since the recession started.
Overall, 14.3 percent of Louisville residents lived below the federal poverty line in 2016, down from 15.1 percent in 2015 and 16.7 percent in 2014, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. At the same time, data show, fewer local households are relying on food stamps and other public assistance.
Compared with statistics from the start of the recession, poverty rates have stayed relatively flat for Louisville’s white residents and declined for African-Americans and Hispanics, even though they are as least twice as likely to live in poverty.
Louisville’s median household income last year -- $51,991 – was the highest inflation-adjusted amount since 2008, although it still lagged behind the booming late 1990s economy.
The rebound comes as the local jobless rate stayed below 5 percent last year and the year before. And employers are seeking to fill nearly 27,000 open positions.
But poverty remains closely tied to education levels. In Louisville, 30 percent of people without a high school degree lived in poverty last year, up from 25 percent eight years before, while 14 percent of high school graduates were impoverished.
And across Kentucky, 33 percent of people who don’t finish high school fell under the poverty line last year, as did 17 percent of those with a high school diploma but no college credits or further education.
Gov. Matt Bevin’s administration has aggressively sought to boost apprenticeship programs as a way to address a shortage of skilled workers in Kentucky. Through the governor’s Labor Cabinet, the state has tapped a federal grant and earmarked $250,000 a year to create a division for apprenticeships and add staff.
Edwards Moving & Rigging Inc. in Shelbyville started an apprenticeship program this summer for people who want to work for the company, which transports heavy loads such as transformers and turbines. The three-year-program includes 2,000 hours of on-the-job training and 144 hours of classroom work.
While the goal is to meet the “tremendous growth” expected in the industry, said Danny Cain, the company’s safety/risk manager, it also may provide a path to long-term employment for people whose education ends at high school.
“Many kids are not bound for college, and vocations have kind of gone by the wayside over the last 10-20 years,” he said. “This is definitely a career opportunity for somebody that has an interest in what we do.”
While nearly half of the U.S. saw poverty levels decline from 2015, Kentucky’s rate remained unchanged at 18.5 percent last year. Only three other states – New Mexico, Louisiana and Mississippi – had a larger share of low-income residents.
Statewide, the data also reveals:
--One in four Kentuckians under 18 lived in poverty last year. A three-person household with two children, for example, was impoverished if its total income was less than $19,337 in 2016.
--The poverty rate was even higher among children five years old and younger. Among that group, 27 percent fell below the federal poverty line.
--Like Louisville, the median household income in Kentucky was mostly stagnant this decade before climbing to $46,659 last year. That was the highest since before the recession.
The annual figures come from Census Bureau surveys of places with populations of 65,000 or more. Among the counties included in Thursday’s release, four had poverty rates above the state average -- Warren County, 19.3 percent; McCracken County, 20.2 percent; Christian County, 22 percent; and Madison County, 23 percent).
In the Louisville area, the poverty rate was relatively flat in Oldham (6.4 percent), Bullitt (10.7 percent) and Hardin (14.2 percent) counties, while it dropped in Indiana’s Clark (9.8 percent, down from 10.8 percent) and Floyd (8.8 percent, from 12.8 percent) counties.