Arkansans wages and poverty levels remained flat in 2018, despite the continued economic growth and historically low unemployment rates of recent years, according to new Census data. Conditions were even worse for children, who experienced a decline in their economic security. Making matters worse, more Arkansans were uninsured in 2018. Historically low unemployment rates are not translating into higher incomes or reduced poverty for all Arkansans.
Arkansas is one of 35 states where poverty levels remained flat, and one of 34 states where median household incomes remained flat. Even on its face this is a troubling finding, since continued gains in employment should translate into lower poverty and higher incomes.
However, looking more closely reveals even more troubling signs. The child poverty rate in Arkansas increased from 22.1 percent in 2017 to 24.4 percent in 2018. Black Arkansans saw an increase in poverty rates from 27.6 percent in 2017 to 30.4 percent in 2018. Black children in Arkansas fared the worst, with a large increase in poverty rates from 35.8 percent in 2017 to 44.8 percent in 2018.
At the same time, Arkansas is also one of 9 states to see income inequality increase between 2017 and 2018.
Together these data points reflect the policies we have pursued in recent years that have left the needs of hard-working Arkansas families on the back burner. Instead of investing in Pre-K access for all children, we have cut taxes for higher income earners. Instead of investing directly in working families, especially those with children, by creating a state-level Earned Income Tax Credit, we have cut taxes for corporations.
After years of progress, the number of Arkansans without health insurance rose in 2018, almost certainly due in part to Trump Administration efforts to weaken public health insurance coverage. State and federal efforts to require Medicaid recipients to report work hours to keep their coverage, for example, helped to increase the overall state uninsured rate in 2018 by removing more than 18,000 individuals from Arkansas Works for not complying with the reporting requirements correctly. A federal judge declared that practice to be a violation of federal law, and the case is on appeal.
A staggering 243,585 Arkansans lacked health insurance coverage in 2018. The percentage of uninsured Arkansans grew to 8.2 percent in 2018, compared to 7.9 percent in 2017. The children’s uninsured rate was 4.5 percent in 2018, a statistically significant increase from our state’s all-time low of 4 percent in 2016.
It’s no surprise that the economic gains our state has experienced are not being shared evenly, but we hope policymakers will take note and prioritize the needs of the children and families in Arkansas that are struggling with economic stagnation and a dearth of opportunities.