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Insurance coverage expanded, housing supply contracted in the region during the pandemic

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Courtesy of the U.S. Census Bureau
The number of uninsured Americans went down during the pandemic, but remained higher than average for states that have not yet expanded Medicaid (shown here as postal codes without circles around them). Wyoming is the only state in the region that hasn't expanded Medicaid.

News brief:

A new data set from the U.S. Census Bureau sheds light on how the pandemic affected health insurance, housing and work commutes across the country, and some of the shifts have been especially pronounced in the Mountain West.

The American Community Survey found that the number of people who worked from home tripled between 2019 and 2021. Colorado had one of the highest percentages of home-based workers – about 24 percent.

Health insurance coverage also shifted significantly in the region. Most states in the Mountain West have higher than average rates of people without insurance. But those percentages generally dropped during the pandemic, including in Idaho and Utah. Idaho's uninsured rate decreased by about 2 percentage points, one of the biggest declines in the country.

Sharon Stern with the U.S. Census Bureau said in a recent webinar that federal COVID-19 policies that kept more people on Medicaid are a major reason for that. Private health coverage decreased in 18 states over the past two years, including Colorado, Utah, Idaho, New Mexico, and Nevada.

“The increase in the percentage of people covered by any type of health insurance was driven by a change in public coverage,” Stern said.

Both Nevada and Wyoming still have an uninsured population of more than 11 percent, the highest in the region. The Cowboy State is the only state in the Mountain West that has yet to expand Medicaid.

Results from the American Community Survey also highlight the pandemic's effects on housing. Rent prices increased and vacancy rates dropped in every state in the region. Nationally, more than half of Americans say they're spending more than 30 percent of their income on their rent, a key indicator of housing insecurity.

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, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM 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 Wyoming Public Radio'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.
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