INDIANAPOLIS — Based on the latest data released by the U.S. Census Bureau, poverty is on the decline in the United States. In 2017, an estimated 13.4 percent of Americans lived below the poverty line, down from 14.0 percent in 2016.
While the improvement is good news, there are many parts of the country where residents are much more likely to struggle with poverty. The poverty threshold is set by the federal government and depends on the size of the family. In the 48 contiguous states, the federal poverty level for a family of four is an annual income of $28,100.
24/7 Wall Street reviewed metro area level poverty data from the U.S. Census Bureau to identify the cities with the highest poverty rates. In 38 of the 382 metro areas reviewed at least one in five residents live in poverty. As would be expected, the majority of these metro areas are in states where low incomes are common. Of the 38 metro areas, 17 are in Texas, Georgia, Louisiana, or West Virginia.
33. Muncie, Indiana
• Poverty rate: 20.4 percent
• 2017 Unemployment: 4.2 percent
• Households receiving SNAP benefits: 13.5 percent
• Median household income: $41,255 (bottom 10 percent)
13. Bloomington, Indiana
• Poverty rate: 22.7 percent
• 2017 Unemployment: 3.7 percent
• Households receiving SNAP benefits: 8.4 percent (lowest 25 percent)
• Median household income: $49,043
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, sometimes referred to as food stamps, are intended to help the poorest Americans afford groceries. Not surprisingly, the U.S. cities with the highest poverty rates also tend to be home to a higher-than-typical share of residents who depend on SNAP. Of the 38 metro areas on this list, 30 have a higher SNAP recipiency rate than the comparable 11.7 percent national share. The three metro areas with the highest poverty rates — Laredo, Texas, Las Cruces, N.M., and McAllen, Texas — also have the highest SNAP recipiency rates, at 28.0 percent, 26.4 percent, and 30.5 percent, respectively.
The U.S. cities with the highest poverty rates also are home to larger than typical shares of households facing extreme poverty. In most of the country, an individual earning $12,140 or less a year is living on poverty level income. Nationwide, some 6.5 percent of households earn $10,000 or less a year. Nearly every city on this list is home to a larger share of households earning $10,000 or less
In many cities on this list, a stalled economy and lack of job opportunities likely contribute to the widespread poverty. In 28 of the 38 metro areas with the highest poverty rates, the annual unemployment rate is greater than or equal to the 2017 U.S. jobless rate of 4.4 percent. In El Centro, Calif., a metro area with a nation-leading 19.1 percent unemployment rate, 24.6 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, a higher poverty rate than in all but a handful of U.S. metro areas.
Higher educational attainment rates often are indicative of areas where people are able to afford higher education. Of course, higher education also can be a means of escaping poverty and earning higher wages. All but seven of the 38 metropolitan areas with the highest poverty rates have adult college attainment rates below the national rate of 32 percent. In 15 of the 38 metropolitan areas on this list, less than 20 percent of adults have at least a bachelor’s degree.
To identify the cities with the highest poverty rates, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed recently released poverty rates data for 382 U.S. metro areas from the 2017 1-year American Community Survey. Only those areas with poverty rates of 20 percent or greater were included on this list. Poverty rates, as well as median household income, SNAP recipiency, and the share of households with annual incomes below $10,000 also came from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2017 American Community Survey. Annual unemployment figures are for 2017 and came from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
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