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KUNC is among the founding partners of the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration of public media stations that serve the Western states of Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming.

Mountain West lags in income and health insurance coverage

A food pantry client adds a carton of yogurt to her cart at the food pantry at Jewish Family Services in Denver, Colo.
Seth McConnell
Denver Post via Getty Images
A food pantry client adds a carton of yogurt to her cart at a food pantry in Denver, Colo.

Most of the Mountain West ranks below average when it comes to health insurance coverage and median income, according to recently released Census data. Poverty rates, meanwhile, are largely better than average throughout the region.

The Census’ yearly reports on the nation’s social and economic wellbeing made national headlines due to several troubling trends. Child poverty doubled, and median household income fell by 2.3 percent – down to $74,580 per year. Post-tax income inequality also grew.

The Census Bureau’s Liana Fox said in a webinar that many of these shifts are the result of high inflation and the loss of pandemic-era government aid, such as the expanded child tax credit.

“What we're seeing is declines,” said Fox, an assistant division chief. “Declines in income at the bottom end of income distribution, in the middle of the income distribution and the top of the income distribution.”

In Mountain West states, income stayed mostly the same, according to a different Census dataset called the American Community Survey. However, only Utah and Colorado have higher levels than the U.S. median. New Mexico, Montana, Wyoming and Nevada have the lowest median incomes in the region.

Poverty rates, meanwhile, are a different story. Most states in the region – except New Mexico – have a lower percentage of people in poverty than the U.S. rate of 11.5%.

When it comes to health insurance nationwide, coverage is increasing because more folks are either gaining employment or aging into Medicare eligibility, according to the Census Bureau.

Health insurance coverage rates rose throughout the Mountain West. Yet only Colorado’s coverage rate exceeds the U.S. average.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, KUNC in Colorado and KANW in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Will Walkey is a contributing journalist and former reporter for Wyoming Public Radio. Through 2023, Will was WPR's regional reporter with the Mountain West News Bureau. He first arrived in Wyoming in 2020, where he covered Teton County for KHOL 89.1 FM in Jackson. His work has aired on NPR and numerous member stations throughout the Rockies, and his story on elk feedgrounds in Western Wyoming won a regional Murrow award in 2021.