Economy

No part of the country is free from debt burdens, but the further south you go, the more it seems people owe.

That’s according to a recent map released by Urban Institute, a think tank based in Washington, D.C., that displays debt data from a credit bureau and the U.S. Census Bureau.

Minnesota has the lowest levels of widespread debt, according to the analysis, while Louisiana has the highest. About four in ten Kentuckians have some debt in collections, more than the national average of 33 percent.

Differences in debt burdens vary by race as well as geography, the data show.

In general, non-white people are more likely to have debt in collections — particularly medical debt. Non-whites are also more likely to not have health insurance, and to have lower average household incomes. Nationally, 39 percent of people identify as a race other than white — in Jefferson County, the non-white population is slightly smaller, at 31 percent. In Kentucky, it’s 15 percent.

Take a look at how Kentucky and Jefferson County compare to the Urban Institutes’ national figures:

The national median debt in collections is $1,450. In Kentucky it’s $1,315, a more than 9 percent difference, and in Jefferson County it’s $1,367, a nearly 6 percent difference. The median amount whites owe in Kentucky and in Jefferson County is about 10 percent less than national rates. For non-whites, the difference is closer to three percent less.

Race-based differences in average household income are stark. The overall average household income for Americans is $78,378, according to the report. Nationally, the non-whites’ average is about $64,000, more than 25 percent less than whites’. In Kentucky, the difference is about 17 percent, with whites bringing in about $64,000 and nonwhites earning about $53,000. The biggest gap is in Jefferson County, where nonwhites’ average household incomes are about 34 percent less than whites’.

Nearly half of non-whites have medical debt in collections in Kentucky and Jefferson County. Compare that to about one in five nationally. Whites have lower rates of medical debt in collections across the board: nationally, 16 percent have medical debt in collections. In Kentucky, that’s 27 percent; in Jefferson County, 22 percent.

Non-whites’ median medical debt is significantly higher than whites’ at all levels. The greatest difference is statewide, with Kentucky non-whites owing $876, nearly 40 percent more than whites. In Jefferson County, non-white people owe the same amount, but white people owe more, shrinking the gulf between the two.

Non-whites are more likely to be uninsured. Nationally, about nine percent of Americans don’t have health insurance, compared to six percent of whites and 14 percent of non-whites. In Kentucky, 11 percent of non-whites lack insurance, compared to five percent of whites. And in Jefferson County, those rates are seven percent and four percent.

Amina Elahi is WFPL's City Reporter.