2010-12-22 / Front Page

Blackey is richest, Jenkins is poorest, census survey says

Letcher County’s smallest city is by far its most affluent, new U.S. Census Bureau data shows.

Statistics from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey show the City of Blackey’s 123 residents have a per capita income of $26,533, a median household income of $41,250, and a median family income of $62,083, figures far above annual incomes reported in the county’s other three cities.

Blackey is one of the state’s smallest incorporated cities, ranking No. 413 of 420 in population. Not only do the town’s residents fare much better than those living in the Letcher County towns of Whitesburg, Fleming Neon and Jenkins, the average Blackey resident is also more affl uent than the average resident in Jeff erson County, the state’s most populated, where the per capita income in 2009 was $26,400. Jeff erson County’s median family income ($58,869) trails Blackey’s by $3,214.

Data included in the American Community Survey was gathered between 2005 and 2009. The survey is the first in 10 years to detail demographics of places with fewer than 65,000 people, such as towns and counties in rural Kentucky.

The information, released last week, marks the largest batch of figures in the history of the Census Bureau and comes from a set of annual surveys mailed to homes across the country that samples one out of every 10 households.

According to the survey, the average income for the City of Whitesburg’s 1,649 residents was $22,085 in 2009, with a median household income of $34,167, and a median family income of $45,893. The City of Fleming-Neon, population 869, had a per capita income of $16,256 in 2009, a median household income of $23,636, and a median family income of $46,154.

The survey shows that only 7.4 percent of families living in Blackey were below the poverty level last year, compared to 22.5 percent of families in Fleming Neon and 23.2 percent of families in Whitesburg.

The City of Jenkins has the highest rate of poverty in Letcher County and the lowest per capita income. The survey shows the average Jenkins resident with an annual income of $13,565, an amount which leaves 31.9 percent of the town’s families and 42 percent of its individuals living below poverty level.

The survey shows that Letcher County had a total population of 23,915 in 2009, down from 25,217 in July 2000. The county is now the 49th most populated among the state’s 120 counties.

According to the survey, the per capita income in Letcher County is $16,672, a number which trails the neighboring Kentucky counties of Pike ($19,012) and Perry ($18,549), but rates above the per capita income in neighboring Harlan ($15,889) and Knott counties ($15,366). Letcher’s other neighbor, Wise County, Va., had a per capita income of $17,152 in 2009.

Letcher’s median household income in 2009 was $28,383, again trailing Pike ($32,271) and Perry ($31,151), but above Knott County’s $28,231 and Harlan County’s $27,101.

Letcher County is in a bloc of six coal-producing counties in far southeastern Kentucky where those who do have jobs earn some of the highest monthly incomes in Kentucky.

“If you’re working in eastern Kentucky, you’re making as much as anyone else in the state is,” said Ron Crouch, director of research and statistics for the state Office of Employment and Training.

Thirteen other Kentucky counties, mostly concentrated in the eastern part of the state, have a medial household income below $25,000 including Owsley County, which also has the nation’s smallest percentage of bachelor’s degrees.

Ten Kentucky counties showed median income levels above $50,000 and are near cities in central and northern Kentucky. Four are in the Louisville area — Oldham, Bullitt, Spencer and Shelby.

Crouch told The Courier- Journal of Louisville that figures from the survey put the poverty and low education in Kentucky’s rural regions in contrast to the more prosperous counties near Louisville, Lexington and Cincinnati.

“It does certainly show the significant income disparities,” he said.

The Census Bureau highlighted Owsley County for having only 4.6 percent of residents 25 and older with bachelor’s degrees. Census officials say that gives it the lowest rate of any county in the nation.

“It’s far too easy for Kentuckians to dismiss all that data as, ‘That’s who we are,’ “ said Terry Brooks, executive director of Kentucky Youth Advocates.

The Census Bureau recorded 35 counties where fewer than 10 percent of adults have bachelor’s degrees. That’s down from 40 counties in 2000, an improvement Crouch attributed to the gradual deaths of an older, less educated population.

Eleven-percent of Letcher County residents who are 25 years old or older have a bachelor’s degree or higher, while 70.7 percent of Letcher residents are high school graduates or better.

— From Eagle, AP reports

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