Poverty Rates Rose in One in Three U.S. Counties Between 2016 and 2018

Poverty Rates Rose in One in Three U.S. Counties Between 2016 and 2018

Although the U.S. poverty rate fell slightly between 2016 and 2018, poverty at the county level rose in nearly a third of U.S. counties, the Pew Charitable TrustsStateline service reports.

Based on U.S. Census Bureau county estimates, the analysis found that the share of households nationally with annual income below the federal poverty level — currently $25,750 for a family of four — fell from 13 percent to 12 percent between 2016 and 2018, while poverty rates at the county level ranged from 2.6 percent to 54 percent in 2018, with a median rate of 14.1 percent. Fourteen of the twenty counties with the largest increases in poverty were in the South, most of them rural. 

In Texas, for instance, eighty-three counties recorded an increase in their poverty rate, compared with just one county each in New Jersey and Rhode Island, while in Alabama poverty increased in twenty-seven of the state's sixty-seven counties, including Bullock County, which saw the second-largest increase in the country, up nearly ten percentage points, to 42.5 percent, while median income fell 18 percent, to $29,267. David Padgett, the county's economic development official, told Stateline that the drop in income may reflect a more realistic estimate than a previous analysis that most likely undercounted the county's low-income population because immigrants working at a local poultry plant were reluctant to participate in the 2010 census.

The analysis also found that some counties with a majority Native American population also saw significant increases in their poverty rate. In Oglala Lakota County, South Dakota, for instance, the poverty rate jumped 13.3 percentage points, to 54 percent, while the Bethel Census Area in Alaska saw an increase of 7.2 percentage points, to 32.7 percent. 

For many jurisdictions, rising poverty rates underscore the importance of a full and fair census count in 2020. "We have to do a better job next year," said Padgett.