Who Are the Uninsured?

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Community Commons

This article was written by Luke Rogers. It was originally published in Random Samplings on September 19, 2017.

In 2016, there were about 27.3 million people (8.6 percent of the population) who lacked health insurance coverage according to the latest American Community Survey data. You may wonder what the uninsured population looked like. Were the uninsured young or old? Were they more likely to live in certain parts of the nation?

Let’s begin by considering age. As shown in Figure 1 below, where the blue bars represent the distribution of the uninsured population and the green bars represent the distribution of the overall U.S. population, 12.0 percent of uninsured people were under 18 years old. At first glance, this number may seem a bit high, but it is relatively low considering that children were almost one-quarter of the U.S. population. That’s nearly a two-fold difference. We see that only a small fraction of the uninsured were people ages 65 and over — just 1.4 percent.

Working-age adults made up a much larger share of the uninsured population than any other age group. In fact, most uninsured people (86.7 percent) were 18 to 64 years old. We see that 25- to 34-year-olds and 35- to 44-years-olds were the two largest groups in this age category, respectively. Indeed, about 1 in 4 uninsured people were 25 to 34 years old. Similarly, about 1 in 5 uninsured people were 34 to 44 years old. Similarly, about 1 in 5 uninsured people were 35 to 44 years old.

But that’s not all the figure tells us. Over half of all people without health insurance coverage were male (54.7 percent), even though the U.S. population has more women than men. About 4 in 10 uninsured people were non-Hispanic white, while 6 in 10 people in the United States were non-Hispanic white. In other words, other races and ethnic groups made up the majority of the uninsured population but less than half (37.3 percent) of the total population. Uninsured people were also more concentrated in the South.

We can also see the socio-economic profile of the uninsured population (Figure 2). Most people without health insurance coverage had just a high school education or less. People who did not complete high school made up a much larger part of the uninsured population (28.6 percent) than the overall population (12.3 percent). The uninsured population was also disproportionately prone to live in poverty. Looking at occupations, about 1 in 3 uninsured people were in service occupations, compared with only about 1 in 5 people in the United States overall.

So who were the uninsured? Uninsured people tended to be 18 to 64 years old, male, have less than a high school education and/or have lower incomes. This profile is fairly different from the profile of the overall U.S. population.

The large sample size of the American Community Survey allows us to take a detailed look at the characteristics of populations, such as the uninsured. To find out more about the uninsured population (such as additional information about their employment characteristics, disability status, nativity and residence) and for information about the uninsured population in smaller geographic areas (such as states, counties and zip codes), see Table S2702 in American FactFinder (“Selected Characteristics of the Uninsured in the United States”).

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