By Thomas C. Frohlich, Alexander Kent, Michael B. Sauter and Sam Stebbins
24/7 Wall St.
In every state, there are rich and there are poor counties. The poorest county in each state can be much poorer than the state’s median household income, or the difference can be much smaller. Delaware has smallest income gap, with the typical household in the poorest county earning $6,700 less annually than the state’s median income. In Maryland and Virginia the difference is the largest, with a typical household earning more than $37,000 less than the states’ respective median household incomes. 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the poorest county in each state based on data from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.
Incomes vary considerably within each state. Even in many of the nation’s wealthiest states, households in the poorest counties earn incomes below the national median. The two exceptions are the poorest counties in Connecticut and Delaware, where the typical household still earns more annually compared to the national median of $53,482.
People living in low income areas are far more likely to live in poverty than those living in richer areas. With the exception of only Red Willow, Nebraska, the poverty rate in each of these counties exceeds the state poverty rate. Compared to the national level, however, poverty in some of the poorest counties is exceptionally high. In five states – Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, Nebraska, and New Hampshire – the poorest county’s poverty rate is lower than the national rate of 15.6%.
The vast majority of income is generated through employment, and a low unemployment rate contributes to higher incomes in an area. The jobless rate is also a reflection of the health of an area’s economy, which can be weakened by lower income jobs. In all but 10 states, the poorest county’s unemployment rate is greater than the 2014 national rate of 6.2%.
People who earn high wages often have more education. The higher education and income allow for more opportunities in life and socioeconomic improvements. However, education levels tend to be lower in these counties. With the exception of only nine poor counties on this list, the share of adults who finished high school does not exceed the state share. Similarly, the college attainment rate in all but five of these counties is lower than the 29.3% of adults nationwide who have completed at least a bachelor’s degree.
The populations of these poor counties are relatively sparse. The poorest county in all but 12 states are more sparsely populated than the national density of 87.4 people per 100,000 Americans. The only urban areas with the distinction of poorest county are The Bronx and Philadelphia in New York and Pennsylvania.
To identify the poorest counties in each state, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed five-year estimated median annual household incomes from 2010 through 2014 from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS). In order to be considered, counties or county-equivalents had to have a population of at least 10,000 people. Five-year estimated educational attainment and poverty rates also came from the ACS. Annual unemployment rates are for 2014 and came from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Population density came from the Census Bureau’s 2010 decennial census.
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