Census: Ga. poverty rate falls but still above U.S. average
Despite gains, fewer people in state had health insurance in ’18.
Georgia’s poverty rate fell but the number of residents without health insurance rose, according to a new U.S. Census report Tuesday.
The latest numbers underscored the benefits of a decadelong economic expansion and the difficulties many Georgians and Americans still face in finding affordable health care. Georgians living in poverty d eclined by 2.8 percentage points between 2015-2016 and 2017-2018. Nationally, the dip was 1.1 percentage points.
Only four states — Arizona, Delaware, South Dakota and Tennessee — reported bigger declines. Kentucky also saw a decrease of 2.8 percentage points, according to the latest Census data.
Still, poverty remains a bigger problem in Georgia than nationally. Some 14.7% of the state’s population is impoverished, compared with 12.3% across the U.S., based on a three-year average between 2016 and 2018.
And even as the economy added jobs, more people in Georgia and the U.S. went without health insurance last year. The South saw a dramatic increase in uninsured children, the only region to see such a trend.
The rate of uninsured in the U.S. rose from 7.9% to 8.5% last year — the first increase nationally since 2009, according to the Census report.
In Georgia, the rate rose to 13.7%, meaning an additional 36,000 people lost or went without health insurance in 2018.
Overall, more than 1.4 million Georgians went without health insurance last year. Georgia has the nation’s third-highest rate of uninsurance, behind only Texas and Oklahoma.
The new report was part of a series the Census Bureau releases annually on the state of the economy. The government also reported Tuesday the U.S. poverty rate fell last year to 11.8%, its lowest level since 2001.
Experts said the reason for Georgia’s decline in the poverty rate is simple: jobs.
The state has reeled in a series of large development projects, including a 1,000-job Amazon distribution center, while continuing to see expansion among its home-grown companies. That helped Georgia’s job growth outpace the nation between 2016 and 2018, said Jeffrey M. Humphreys, director of the Selig Center for Economic Growth at the University of Georgia’s Terry College of Business.
Georgia has long ranked high in surveys among site selection and development observers for being low in business taxes and generous in business incentives. Its demographics also fuel growth, with an expanding population of young people.
But the state is really just making up ground it lost during the Great Recession, returning to poverty levels of about 10 years ago, said David Sjoquist, professor of economics at Georgia State University. Georgia’s poverty rate had climbed to 19.2% in 2012, the highest in decades, he said.
The decline in the number of people with health insurance, meanwhile, has the attention of Georgia’s highest elected officials. Research commissioned by the office of Gov. Brian Kemp shows the insurance gap is accompanied by some serious health problems in the state.
Kemp is planning to submit a health care “waiver” request to the federal government, which could end up getting more health coverage for more people.
His office has not released details about what that request will include.
The Georgia trend mirrors what’s happening in some other parts of the country. States that didn’t expand the government health insurance program Medicaid to all their poor had uninsured rates about double those of states that did expand Medicaid.
Working-age adults in Georgia who make less than the poverty level usually do not qualify for Medicaid or Obamacare coverage, also known as the Affordable Care Act.
Nationally, the numbers of people with private insurance stayed steady.
The explanation for the national increase in uninsured appeared to be fewer people on Medicaid and Medicare. Medicare is the government health insurance program for the elderly.
The rise in the uninsured included an increase of more than 400,000 children, or 0.6% of all U.S. children.