Miss., La. ranked poorest states

Published 1:35 pm Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Life is getting even harder in the nation’s poorest states. New Census data show those states are Mississippi and Louisiana, with about one in five residents living in poverty and about the same percentage without health insurance.

And as the states’ unemployment rates grew, so did the numbers of people without insurance.

Roughly 618,000 Mississippi residents and 886,000 in Louisiana lacked any health insurance last year, according to Census Bureau data released Tuesday. That’s 21.1 percent of Mississippi residents and 20 percent in Louisiana.

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“A lack of insurance definitely decreases access to health care,” said Dr. Mary Currier, Mississippi State Health Officer. “And in a state that already has relatively poor access to care anyway, that is not good.”

Mississippi has fewer doctors per capita than any other state, higher infant mortality and more chronic disease, Currier said. However, five states with less poverty had about the same percentage of uninsured. Texas had the nation’s highest percentage at 24.6 percent. Florida, Nevada, New Mexico and South Carolina all had rates between 20.6 and 21.6 percent.

Mississippi was the nation’s poorest state in 2010. The bureau says an estimated 664,000 residents — 22.7 percent — had income below the poverty line. Louisiana was the second-poorest, at 21.6 percent, or 958,000 people.

Nationally, about one in six people live below the official poverty level, or $22,314 a year for a family of four.

Both Louisiana and Mississippi saw significant increases in the number and percentage of uninsured residents from 2009 to 2010, when their annual unemployment rates also rose much faster than the national rate. Louisiana’s 0.9 percent increase was triple the national increase of 0.3 percent, and Mississippi’s rate rose 0.8 percent.

That meant an additional 12,000 people out of work in Mississippi, for a total of 137,000 and an annual unemployment rate of 10.4 percent, and 19,000 more in Louisiana, for a total of 155,000 and a rate of 7.5 percent at a time that the national rate was 9.6 percent.

The annual insurance figures were not precise enough to allow exact comparisons, but did show the increase was significant.

“If we could improve the economy a lot of the health indicators would improve,” Currier said. “And the other way around. If we could improve our health indicators that would improve the economy.”