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Census: Uninsured, poverty levels rising in Gregg County

By Richard Yeakley
Sept. 18, 2013 at 11 p.m.

New U.S. Census figures show almost one in four Gregg County residents lacks health insurance coverage - an increase from 2011 and a greater percentage than the state average.

Analysis of the most recent Census data shows that, in 2012, more Gregg County residents were uninsured, earn less and were more likely to live in poverty than the state average, which was higher than the national average.

In addition, in many of the metrics, the county either held steady or decreased in performance as compared to 2011, according to the American Community Survey.

According to the 2012 data, Gregg County saw the percentage of its residents without insurance increase from 18.3 percent in 2011 to 23 percent in 2012, surpassing the state average of 22.5 percent and the national average of 14.8 percent for the year.

Gregg County resident David Holley, who has been without health insurance since he was laid off work several years ago, was not surprised so many residents are in the same situation.

According to the report, 27,856 Gregg County residents were uninsured in 2012 compared to 22,174 residents the previous year.

"I think it is just the cost (of insurance). It makes it difficult for some people," Holley said.

Gregg County Judge Bill Stoudt said a growing Hispanic population, which traditionally carries less insurance than other races, and preparation for the implementation of the Affordable Care Act as reasons the number of uninsured persons might be on the rise.

"I think one of the things that is probably unwritten in the last Census is that the only growth area that we grew in was the Hispanic population. Most of that demographic do not carry insurance, so that is going to skew what some of the numbers say," Stoudt said.

According to the data, 42 percent of Gregg County Hispanics were uninsured in 2012, compared to 18 percent of white residents and 21 percent of black residents without insurance.

The data released included information for counties with more than 65,000 residents, which in Northeast Texas is Gregg and Harrison counties.

The percentage of uninsured residents in Harrison County increased from 21 percent to 22.8 percent in the same period.

While a spokesman for the Gregg County Health department could not confirm an increase in uninsured clients, Timothy Dolley, marketing coordinator for Wellness Pointe, said the healthcare provider has noted an increase in uninsured patients.

"I do know that the number of people coming in without insurance has been rising," Dolley said. "Our payer mix is tending toward more uninsured."

Dolley said he did not have immediate access to the percentage of clinic patients who were uninsured.

Other measures of the census data included mean family income and the unemployment rate.

The mean family income in Gregg and Harrison counties dropped from 2011 to 2012 and continued to trail behind state and national averages, the data shows.

In Gregg County, the mean family income fell from $69,327 per year to $67,581.

Harrison County's mean family income saw a greater decline, dropping from $70,406 to $64,324.

The state and national average family incomes for 2012 were $80,319 and $83,124, respectively.

In 2011, Texas and Gregg County showed 14.4 percent of families lived below the poverty line.

In 2012, the percentage of people living in poverty in Gregg County's increased to 15.2 percent, while the state average dropped to 14 percent, the data showed.

Harrison County's totals stayed well below the state average, with a poverty rate of 12.8 percent in 2012, an increase from 9.9 percent in 2011.

While several metrics from newest Census numbers appeared negative, Stoudt and Susan Mazarakes-Gill, executive director of the Longview Economic Development Corp., said they believe county momentum is positive.

"You see a lot of development going along inside Gregg County and large employers making their homes here," Stoudt said.

Mazarakes-Gill pointed to sales tax revenues for fiscal year 2012-13 that exceeded the previous year as a sign of positive growth.

"Our economic indicators indicate that we are doing really well," Mazarakes-Gill said.

She added that for the metropolitan area from which Longview drew workers, the unemployment rate had not risen above 7 percent since October 2012.



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