States with the most people below the poverty line
Poverty is one of America’s most vexing and poignant issues—what causes it, why does it persist, how can we end it, what defines it, and just how many people are poor? Stacker ranked all states and Washington D.C. based on the percentage of their populations below the federal poverty threshold. Data comes from the U.S. Census Bureau's 2018 American Community five-year estimates.
The most basic measure is the U.S. federal poverty level, which dates back to the 1960s and is used to determine eligibility for food stamps. Called the FPL, it is based on the cost of a minimal food budget, multiplied by three on the assumption that food comprises a third of a household’s expenses. It’s widely criticized as outdated and failing to portray poverty accurately.
Another way of counting people in poverty is the U.S. Census Bureau’s Supplemental Poverty Measure, or SPM, which includes government assistance as income but factors in the costs of buying such basics as food, utilities, clothing, housing, and miscellaneous items. It, too, is criticized as failing to measure such varied factors in poverty as regional differences, job opportunities, or transportation options.
Another measure, the Self-Sufficiency Standard, factors in details such as family members’ ages and geographic differences. Yet another means is the Area Median Income, used by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to determine housing assistance. It sets a midpoint for incomes in a given area and measures household earnings against that point. Income of 30% less than the midpoint, for example, would be extremely low.
Some say 200% of the federal poverty level is a more realistic figure for covering the cost of basic needs in the United States. None of the measures captures what’s known as episodic poverty, which affects workers with temporary jobs or those in the informal or gig economies.
Poverty rates in America also reveala disturbing racial gap, with Black Americans some2.5 timesmore likely to be poor than white Americans, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. The poverty rate hovers at about a third of Black residents in Iowa, Wisconsin, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi. Research generally points to causes like poor education systems, workplace discrimination, and high incarceration rates.
The coronavirus has reached into that gap,with correlations between poverty and COVID-19hitting low-income Black communities disproportionately hard. Experts say there is more likelihood of underlying medical conditions that make Black people vulnerable, such as diabetes and heart disease. Those communities tend to have less access to good health care and have higher populations of essential workers who cannot stay home and are forced to stay on the job and risk getting infected.
Keep reading to see which states have the most people below the poverty line.
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