The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

Opinion

September 23, 2012

New figures tell sad story about state

Montgomery (Ala.) Advertiser on state poverty level figures:

A decline in the poverty rate and an increase in median income are welcome news, to be sure, but no one in Alabama should be dancing in the streets over the initial numbers from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Our state still has a significant percentage of its people living in poverty and still lags well behind the national average in median income.

The Census figures show 15.49 percent of Alabamians living in poverty in 2011, a drop from 17.2 percent the previous year. That’s a modest improvement, but at least the trend is in the right direction.

The median household income in Alabama — the figure at which half the households earn less and half earn more — was $42,590 in 2011. That’s about 85 percent of the national median income of $50,054 in 2011. Alabama ranks 42nd among the states in median household income.

About 660,000 Alabamians under age 65, or about one in six, lacked health insurance in 2011. These are mostly working people employed in lower-paying jobs that don’t offer insurance benefits, but which produce an income level too high to qualify for Alabama’s Medicaid program. The number of Alabamians covered by private insurance dropped 5.7 percent for the year.

Medicaid, even at the minimal levels it operates in Alabama, is critical to lessening the impact of poverty. That’s something voters should bear in mind as they weigh their decisions on the referendum on using trust fund money to bolster the General Fund budget, in large part to maintain Alabama’s Medicaid program at least a bare-bones level.

Fighting poverty in Alabama is a long-term struggle with many facets to address. Ultimately, greater economic opportunity is the most desirable remedy, but there is no single path to get there.

Expanding opportunity requires not only a broad economic recovery, but also the capacity to take advantage of it. Among other things, that means a better educated, better prepared, healthier workforce — and that means investments in education and health care.

Most of all, it requires a deep and never forgotten understanding that behind the columns of Census numbers lie the lives of hundreds of thousands of real people, our fellow Alabamians. That’s why the fight against poverty in this state must be waged tirelessly and intelligently.

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