For decades, Kentucky’s unofficial motto has been “Thank God for Alabama and Mississippi!” Even when Kentucky was in the basement—ranked 48th in its public schools—we had the sweet solace that at least Alabama and Mississippi were below us. Sure, in 1996, Kentucky’s per-pupil funding was $5,245, but that was still $1,297 more than Mississippi (although nearly the same as Alabama’s), according to the Center for Social Inclusion, a think tank devoted to racial equity located in New York City. Mississippi, especially its Delta region, held a permanent place in the nation’s economic basement, decade in and decade out. We could always count on a higher illiteracy rate, higher infant mortality rate, worse everything from the Magnolia State — especially worse basketball teams.
It appears that Kentucky needs a new motto.
In 2014, the per-capita income of Kentucky’s Appalachian region was a mere $30,308, according to the Berea-based Federation of Appalachian Housing Enterprises, just 65 percent of the national average. But by then, we could take no solace from the Mississippi Delta: their per-capita income was $30,476, according to the Mississippi Department of Employment Security. Damn! Barely larger than Appalachia’s but still larger. “You can’t out-poor the Delta,” Christopher Masingill, joint head of the Delta Regional Authority, told The Economist in 2013. Well, if you’re Eastern Kentucky, yes, you can.
But it’s not just per-capita income. Business Insider ranked all 50 states and the District of Columbia based on an amalgam of unemployment rate, job growth, per-capita Gross Domestic Product, GDP growth, average weekly wages and wage growth. Kentucky ranked 47th — just below the dreaded Mississippi. Part of the reason is that Kentucky’s wage growth of 0.8 percent between December 2016 and December 2017 made it the third-lowest in the nation, and the Commonwealth’s average weekly wage of $769.89 placed it seventh from the basement. (Alabama ranked 31st, wedged between Nevada and Michigan.)
We still have an advantage over Mississippi: health care. Thanks to the Affordable Care Act and the Medicaid expansion, only 5 percent of Kentucky’s residents are uninsured, while 20 percent of Mississippians lack insurance coverage, according to the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey. But, with Governor Matt Bevin trying every trick to cut the Medicaid rolls (even though doing so ends up costing more), those numbers are sure to change, as hundreds of thousands of Kentuckians get dropped from the Medicaid rolls.
According to the Commonwealth Fund, contracting the Medicaid rolls will cost the state $150 per Kentucky resident in net-of-taxes reduction in federal funds. That’s because the uninsured not only won’t have money for health-care providers, but when they do visit the doctor, the uninsured will pay more than anyone else—money that has to be taken from groceries, rent, gas, car repairs, and other necessities. That comes to $700 million annually by 2021, equal to the amount that Bevin wanted to slice from the state budget in his draconian budget proposal. Makes you wonder if Governor Bevin is secretly in the employ of the Mississippi Chamber of Commerce.
Kentucky has now become Mississippi’s Mississippi. We are in a race to the bottom, and winning.
At least, we still have basketball.
— Forward Kentucky