The Gulf Widens: America’s Poor

The Census Bureau released figures about poverty, wealth and income in publishing the American Community Survey. Among the significant headlines is the fact that income inequality –the gap between the richest and the poorest Americans — reached record heights in 2009. This does not come as much of a surprise to folks living and working throughout Central Appalachia.

Regional breakdowns of the data are particularly interesting, with Central Appalachian states continuing to register as among the nation’s poorest — though sadly, we are not alone in achieving this dubious distinction.

From the NYT’s Economix Blog yesterday, by Catherine Rampell:

Also as part of its broad data release regarding the American Community Survey today, the Census Bureau has also put out a report on poverty rates by state.

As previously reported, in 2009, 14.3 percent of the American population had income that was below the official poverty threshold, compared to 13.2 percent in 2008.

The poverty rate rose in 31 states last year. Here’s a map showing the poverty rates for each state:


Sources: U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey, 2009, Puerto Rico Community Survey, 2009.

The rate was highest in Mississippi, at 21.9 percent, and lowest in New Hampshire, where 8.5 percent of residents live in poverty. There were only four other states besides New Hampshire that had poverty rates below 10 percent: Alaska, Connecticut, Maryland and New Jersey.

Across the country the portion of Americans who were in extreme poverty — that is, earning less than 50 percent of the poverty threshold — increased to 6.3 percent in 2009 from 5.6 percent in 2008. The proportion of living in extreme poverty was lowest in Wyoming (3.3 percent) and highest in the District of Columbia (10.7 percent).

A person or family’s poverty status is calculated by “comparing annual income to a set of dollar values called thresholds that vary by family size, number of children, and age of householder,” according to the Census Bureau. The poverty threshold is adjusted from year to year depending on inflation rates, but does not vary by region.

Kristin Tracz

About Kristin Tracz

Kristin Tracz served MACED’s Research and Policy team from 2009-2012 working on clean energy policy, energy efficiency programs and the Appalachian Transition Initiative. She joined MACED after finishing her Master of Environmental Management degree at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies. She now lives and works in Washington, DC.