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Poverty rate up slightly for Appalachia region

By P.J. Dickerscheid
Associated Press Writer
CHARLESTON, W.Va. ó The share of Appalachians living in poverty last year increased by 114,000 to 13.3 million, according to U.S. Census Bureau figures released Tuesday.
But there was good news in the numbers. Median incomes were up in all the 13 states that make up Appalachia except Kentucky, where the median income was $39,678. However, with the exception of Maryland and Virginia, those incomes across Appalachia still were below the national median of $50,233.
And the number of people in the region who did not have health insurance last year fell to 13.6 million from 13.7 million from the year before.
Appalachia includes all of West Virginia and parts of Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Maryland, Mississippi, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia.
Virginia was the only state in the Appalachia region to experience an increase in the number of people living in poverty, from 709,000 in 2006 to 743,000 a year later.
In West Virginia, where the number of uninsured increased by about 9,000, an advocate of more government health care programs said the figures werenít as bad as they could have been.
ěIím delighted the increase isnít bigger,î said Perry Bryant, executive director of West Virginians for Affordable Health Care.
Bryantís group, which has pushed for the expansion of the state Childrenís Health Insurance Program, said the numbers also show that private employers are struggling to provide coverage to their workers.
ěThe state needs to make a concerted effort to help stabilize private employee health plans,î he said.
Since President Lyndon B. Johnson declared war on poverty, the poverty rate in Appalachia has been slashed from 31 percent in 1960 to 13.6 percent in 2000.
Officials rely on census figures to help determine funding for economically distressed regions.
óóóó
Associated Press Writer Tom Breen in Charleston contributed to this report.

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