American Community Survey paints a bleak landscape

This morning the U.S. Census Bureau released state and local data on poverty levels, income, and health insurance coverage from the 2010 American Community Survey (ACS). Echoing the national trends seen in the Census Bureau’s recent release from the Current Population Survey, many states and communities are still feeling the lingering effects of the Great Recession.

Median annual household income fell in 35 of the 50 states and the District of Columbia between 2009 and 2010, with the remaining 15 states showing no change in median household income whatsoever. According to the ACS, the nationwide median income fell by 2.2 percent, but the median income dropped by more than 5 percent in seven states: Alaska (5.2 percent), Arizona (5.8 percent), Connecticut (6.1 percent), Idaho (5 percent), Nevada (6.1 percent), Oregon (5.5 percent), and Vermont (6.1 percent).

Only 20 states now have a median annual household income above the national figure of $50,046. Maryland and New Jersey have the highest median household incomes, both above $67,000. Mississippi, West Virginia, and Arkansas have the lowest median incomes, all of which are below $40,000.

Additionally, the distribution of income became more unequal in nine states over the past year. While income inequality did decrease for three states—North Dakota, West Virginia, and Texas—this change provides little consolation. North Dakota and West Virginia saw no change in median income—West Virginia’s median income remains the second-lowest in the country—and Texas’ median income decreased by one percent. In other words, income inequality went down in these three states either because gains at the bottom of the income distribution equaled the losses at the top, or in the case of Texas, the state on the whole simply became poorer.

The survey’s poverty and child poverty numbers are also frighteningly high. The national poverty rate is at 15.1 percent, but it runs as high as 20.4 percent and 22.4 percent in New Mexico and Mississippi, respectively. The percentage of children living in poverty is at or above 20 percent in 24 states and the District of Columbia.

The data also show that some elements of the safety net have played an important role at helping families bearing the brunt of the recession. Reliance on cash assistance income has increased over the last year. In seven states, at least one in every 25 households relies on cash assistance. In both Maine and Alaska, more than 5 percent of families receive cash assistance. At the same time, in 35 states, more than 10 percent of households receive food stamps. Nationwide nearly 12 percent of households are food stamp recipients.

Finally, the data also shows that in 20 states, more than 15 percent of people do not have health insurance coverage. The highest proportion of uninsured people is in Texas, where nearly one in four residents (23.7 percent) lacks health insurance, including 14.5 percent of children.

The Great Recession may technically be over, but today’s release is a clear reminder that America’s communities are still struggling. See the full ACS release here.