Policy Analysis | September 2018
Poverty Statistics for Southern States
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
Poverty Rates Among Major Population Groups 2017
|State||Black/African American poverty rate
|Hispanic/Latino poverty rate
Source: U.S. Census Bureau, 2018