New data show troubling trend in health coverage and food security

New census data on poverty, income, housing and health can help gauge how much Arkansans have lost — before and during the pandemic

People across Arkansas continue to face dire economic hardship – particularly Arkansans of color and those with low incomes – as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, making the need for bold action at the state and federal levels clearer than ever. That’s the picture painted by new data released today from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey and an analysis of data from its ongoing Household Pulse Survey and other sources.

Between 2018 and 2019, Arkansas’s poverty rate fell by 1 percentage point to 16.2 percent, and median household income rose by 2.4 percent to $48,952.

At the same time, the state’s uninsured rate jumped more than almost any other state — from 8.2 percent to 9.1 percent. The children’s uninsured rate grew from 4.5 percent to 5.9 percent, a 31 percent increase in uninsured children. These are trends that accelerated this year’s severe health and housing needs.

More up-to-date data from this summer show a worsening of some trends and a sharper rise in hardship across Arkansas:

  • 14 percent of adults reported that their household sometimes or often didn’t have enough to eat in the last seven days
  • 21 percent of adults with children reported that their kids sometimes or often didn’t eat enough in the last seven days because they couldn’t afford it
  • 18 percent of adults who live in rental housing reported that they were behind on rent, and 29 percent are behind on their mortgage payments
  • And 29 percent of all children in Arkansas live in a family that is either not getting enough to eat or behind on housing payments

This hardship is being felt more acutely by Arkansans of color and people with very low incomes, who were already struggling to make ends meet before the pandemic. As a result of current and historic policies contributing to deep inequities, low-income Arkansans and Arkansans of color often lack access to the resources they need to be resilient, like healthy food options, transportation, quality schools, etc.

As we see every day, people across Arkansas are struggling with paying their bills, putting food on the table, and getting back to work. And many of these same Arkansans are the one that are on the frontlines of this pandemic, working at child care centers, grocery stores, and in other low-paid jobs. Our federal and state policymakers must act decisively to help families and individuals facing today’s extreme levels of hardship, especially those in Black, Latino, Indigenous, and immigrant households.

Here’s what they can do:

Federal: Congress must act swiftly to provide more federal relief that matches the extraordinary need that households and our economy face. That includes boosting vital assistance programs such as SNAP (formerly known as food stamps) and housing assistance, extending enhanced federal unemployment benefits, and allocating additional aid to states and local governments that can help prevent further layoffs and cuts to core public services.

State: Lawmakers must meet the demands of the moment by advancing bold policies to build antiracist, equitable, and inclusive communities and an economic recovery that extends to all people. You can read AACF’s full federal recommendations here.