Texas weathered the 2008 recession better than most states, but the state's median income remains below 2000 levels, and the poverty and uninsured rates remain high, according to U.S. Census Bureau data released Thursday.
The state was one of only two where the poverty rate declined, dropping to 17.9 percent in 2012 from 18.5 percent in 2011, the highest rate recorded since 2000. Minnesota's rate also declined.
The bureau's annual American Community Survey found that in 2012 about 4.5 million Texans lived in poverty, defined as an annual income of less than $18,480 a year for a family of three. Nationally, the percentage of people living in poverty stands at 15.9 percent. In 2000, Texas' poverty rate was 15.1 percent.
"Even though Texas has relatively low unemployment, our workers are much more likely to be working in a job paying minimum wage or less compared to most other states," said Francis Deviney, senior research associate at the Center for Public Policy Priorities, which advocates policies to reduce poverty. "Today, Texas invests an average of $5.78 per adult without a high school diploma/GED for adult basic education and literacy training, compared to $66.20 nationally. These programs are a critical first step to moving low-income Texans into careers that pay family-supporting wages."
Census data backed up the link between education and poverty, with 30 percent of people without a high school diplomat living in poverty, while the rate was only 4.2 percent for those with a college degree.
A thriving oil and gas industry has kept unemployment below the national average since 2007, the last year before the Great Recession. Since 2008, Texas has been a national leader in adding jobs, but between 2008 and 2012, the percentage of people under 65 years old with private health insurance dropped from 57.6 percent to 54.7 percent.
During that same period, enrollment in public health coverage, such as Medicaid, went up from 16.7 percent to 20.3 percent. The uninsured rate remained fairly constant at 25 percent, while the number of uninsured dropped nationally.
The median household income in Texas, $50,740 a year, was largely unchanged between 2011 and 2012. But incomes have still not returned to 2000 levels, when the median was $52,365.
Mississippi had the lowest median income in 2012 at $37,095, while Maryland had the highest at $71,122.
One critical income level for Texans is 125 percent of the federal poverty level. People making more than that will be eligible for federally subsidized health insurance on Texas' health care exchange, while those making less will not.
The Affordable Care Act originally required all states to enroll citizens making less than 125 percent of the federal poverty level in Medicaid, the joint state-federal health care program for the poor and disabled. But Gov. Rick Perry has rejected all proposals to expand Medicaid, a system he calls broken.
That means that the majority of more than 6 million Texans who earn under that threshold -- 23.6 percent of the population -- will not be eligible for Medicaid or subsidized health insurance. They will continue to rely on charity care provided at public hospitals, which is funded through local taxes and higher private insurance rates.