Selected SLC Research


Policy Analysis | September 19, 2018

Poverty Statistics for Southern States

Roger Moore, Policy Analyst

Poverty is a complex and multifaceted issue, the result of socioeconomic factors often connected to history, geography and race. Studies consistently show that poverty limits access to education, nutritious foods, professional opportunities and safe, prosperous neighborhoods, all of which are critical for sustaining long and healthy livelihoods. For state and local governments, poverty can exacerbate crime, necessitate increased spending on healthcare and social safety nets, and adversely affect economic growth for decades.
 
According to statistics released by the U.S. Census Bureau in September 2018,* 42.5 million people lived in poverty in 2017, equivalent to 13.4 percent of the entire population that year. Among all groups, those identifying as American Indian and Alaska Native experienced the highest poverty rates at 25.4 percent, followed by individuals who identified as black or African American at 23.0 percent and Hispanic or Latino at 19.4 percent. Meanwhile, individuals who identified as white or Asian had the lowest poverty rates in 2017, both at 11.1 percent.

Though millions of people remain below the poverty level, there have been notable improvements in recent years. Between 2014 – 2017, the number of people nationally living in poverty decreased by 11.7 percent, a trend reflected across much of the South. During this period, 12 of the 15 states in the SLC region had statistically significant reductions in the number of people living below the poverty level, including Tennessee and Georgia, which were among the top states nationally in this category. Missouri, Arkansas, Alabama, North Carolina and South Carolina also had notable reductions in poverty levels that were close to or better than the national average.

Despite marked progress during the past few years, poverty rates across the South remain high compared to other regions. Nine of the 10 states with the highest poverty rates in 2017 were in the SLC region, including Mississippi, Louisiana, West Virginia, Kentucky, Alabama, Arkansas, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Tennessee. Another four states, Georgia, North Carolina, Texas and Florida, were among the top 20 nationally, followed lastly by Missouri and Virginia, which ranked 21st and 40th, respectively. All Southern states except Virginia maintained poverty rates in 2017 that were on par with, or higher than, the national average of 13.4 percent. 

Various sustained policies state and local leaders have taken to mitigate the ongoing, intractable problems surrounding poverty include allocating more funding for education, particularly for students in low-income school districts; increasing access to healthcare; providing professional development opportunities for all segments of the adult population; and investing in infrastructure that serves all communities.


* All data is approximate due to slight margins of error cited by the Census Bureau.


Poverty in the United States 2014-2017
State Population living below poverty level
2017
Poverty rate
2017
Percent change
2014-2017
United States 42,583,651 13.4 -11.7
Alabama 802,656 16.9 -11.8
Alaska 80,012 11.1 -0.8
Arizona 1,018,935 14.9 -15.0
Arkansas 478,365 16.4 -12.1
California 5,160,208 13.3 -17.6
Colorado 564,312 10.3 -10.5
Connecticut 334,128 9.6 -10.8
Delaware 126,986 13.6 11.9
Florida 2,889,506 14.0 -10.0
Georgia 1,517,702 14.9 -15.6
Hawaii 132,549 9.5 -15.4
Idaho 216,309 12.8 -9.1
Illinois 1,569,753 12.6 -13.0
Indiana 871,247 13.5 -10.6
Iowa 326,636 10.7 -11.2
Kansas 336,487 11.9 -12.1
Kentucky 744,239 17.2 -9.0
Louisiana 899,039 19.7 0.3
Maine 144,012 11.1 -21.2
Maryland 549,171 9.3 -6.9
Massachusetts 692,201 10.5 -8.6
Michigan 1,377,766 14.2 -12.2
Minnesota 517,476 9.5 -15.4
Mississippi 571,219 19.8 -8.3
Missouri 795,732 13.4 -12.4
Montana 127,777 12.5 -17.0
Nebraska 200,909 10.8 -11.6
Nevada 384,120 13.0 -10.0
New Hampshire 99,966 7.7 -15.3
New Jersey 882,673 10.0 -9.3
New Mexico 401,755 19.7 -7.9
New York 2,722,257 14.1 -11.1
North Carolina 1,471,339 14.7 -11.8
North Dakota 75,279 10.3 -8.5
Ohio 1,582,931 14.0 -11.4
Oklahoma 603,864 15.8 -3.2
Oregon 537,974 13.2 -16.5
Pennsylvania 1,548,720 12.5 -7.9
Rhode Island 118,367 11.6 -18.7
South Carolina 751,907 15.4 -10.9
South Dakota 109,099 13.0 -6.6
Tennessee 980,284 15.0 -16.3
Texas 4,076,905 14.7 -9.9
Utah 296,557 9.7 -12.8
Vermont 67,841 11.3 -7.3
Virginia 874,483 10.6 -8.3
Washington 802,159 11.0 -12.2
West Virginia 336,301 19.1 2.6
Wisconsin 639,564 11.3 -13.4
Wyoming 64,054 11.3 0.4
Poverty Rates Among Major Population Groups 2017
State Black/African American poverty rate
2017
Hispanic/Latino poverty rate
2017
White
poverty rate
2017
United States 23.0 19.4 11.1
Alabama 27.3 30.7 12.2
Arkansas 27.6 23.2 13.6
Florida 21.9 17.7 12.2
Georgia 21.5 23.4 11.0
Kentucky 25.7 25.8 16.1
Louisiana 33.1 25.1 12.5
Mississippi 31.3 21.6 12.1
Missouri 24.7 17.9 11.4
North Carolina 22.0 27.1 11.6
Oklahoma 28.5 22.7 13.4
South Carolina 24.3 26.5 11.2
Tennessee 24.2 24.5 12.7
Texas 19.0 20.7 13.9
Virginia 17.9 13.7 8.5
West Virginia 31.7 24.3 18.2

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, 2018