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Useful Stats: U.S. poverty rates by county for 1989, 1999, 2015

June 08, 2017

More than 46 million Americans, nearly 15 percent of the population, lived in poverty in 2015, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates. Compared against census data for 1999, more than 2,500 of the country’s 3,100-plus counties saw their rate increase. In 2015, 753 counties had a poverty rate of at least 20 percent — and 415 of these counties have been above this threshold in census data dating back to at least 1989. These “persistent poverty” counties are targets for set asides of some federal economic development funding.

In the FY 2017 omnibus, Congress encouraged four agencies — USDA Rural Development, CDFI Fund, EPA’s Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA), and EDA — to spend at least 10 percent of appropriated funds in “persistent poverty” counties.[1] Congress defines persistent poverty as at least 20 percent of the county population living in poverty over the past 30 years.

As can be seen in the map below, many of the 415 counties are concentrated in central Appalachia and the Mississippi Delta region, including New Orleans. Many rural counties in the southeast and southwest, in addition to the El Paso metro, are also affected. Larger cities outside of these areas with persistent poverty pockets include New York (Brooklyn and the Bronx), Philadelphia, Baltimore and St. Louis.

Fifteen states, as well as the District of Columbia, have no counties that meet this definition. New England is the strongest in this regard, with no persistent poverty counties in the six most northeast states. In the Mid-Atlantic, D.C. is joined by Delaware and New Jersey. In the Midwest, Indiana, Iowa and Minnesota, and in the West, Hawaii, Nevada, Oregon and Wyoming, all do not have any counties meeting the persistent poverty criteria.

The full data table with 1989 and 1999 Census data and 2015 SAIPE data is available to download [xls].

[1] The 2017 omnibus budget bill directs all agencies to use census poverty data for 1990 and 2000, but EPA and EDA are to use SAIPE’s 2015 data for their third data point while USDA and CDFI Fund use (different) five-year data from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. The map and data table included with this article use the SAIPE data.

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