List of U.S. States by Poverty Rate

US map

While statistics can't really convey the struggles associated with living in poverty, they can provide a framework for discussing income inequality in the United States. The U.S. Census Bureau keeps track of the number of people living in poverty to help determine the budgets for assistance programs like SNAP and WIC.

Poverty at a Glance

In 2009, the most recent year for which complete statistics are available by the U.S. Census Bureau (USCB), the official poverty rate was 14.3%. This equates to 43.6 million people without enough income to meet their essential daily expenses.

The poverty threshold varies by family size, since your expenses will obviously increase as your family grows. In 2009, the USCB indicated that poverty threshold level was defined as less than $21,954 in annual income for a family of four or less than $10,956 in annual income for an individual. In comparison, the median household income in the United States for the same time period was $50,221.

The number of Americans living in extreme poverty, defined as those with an income less than 50% of the poverty threshold for their family size, was 6.3% in 2009.

Poverty Rates by State

The Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates page of the USCB website has an interactive map showing poverty rates by state. State poverty numbers, as well as more detailed income information, can also be found in the State Quick Facts section of the U.S. Census Bureau website.

The percentage of Americans living in poverty by state for 2009 was:

  1. Mississippi - 21.8%
  2. Arkansas - 18.5%
  3. Kentucky - 18.4%
  4. New Mexico - 18.2%
  5. West Virginia - 17.8%
  6. Louisiana - 17.6%
  7. District of Columbia - 17.6%
  8. Alabama - 17.5%
  9. Tennessee - 17.2%
  10. Texas - 17.1%
  11. South Carolina - 17.1%
  12. Georgia - 16.6%
  13. Arizona - 16.5%
  14. North Carolina - 16.2%
  15. Oklahoma - 16.1%
  16. Michigan - 16.1%
  17. Ohio - 15.1%
  18. Montana - 15%
  19. Florida - 15%
  20. Missouri - 14.6%
  21. Idaho - 14.4%
  22. Indiana - 14.4%
  23. Oregon - 14.3%
  24. South Dakota -14.2%
  25. New York - 14.2%
  26. California-14.2%
  27. Illinois - 13.3%
  28. Kansas - 13.2%
  29. Colorado - 12.6%
  30. Maine - 12.6%
  31. Pennsylvania - 12.5%
  32. Nevada - 12.4%
  33. Wisconsin - 12.4%
  34. Washington - 12.3%
  35. Nebraska - 12.2%
  36. Rhode Island - 12%
  37. Iowa - 11.8%
  38. North Dakota - 11.7%
  39. Utah - 11.7%
  40. Vermont - 11.5%
  41. Delaware - 11.2%
  42. Minnesota - 10.9%
  43. Virginia - 10.6%
  44. Hawaii - 10.4%
  45. Massachusetts - 10.3%
  46. Wyoming - 10.2%
  47. New Jersey - 9.4%
  48. Connecticut - 9.3%
  49. Maryland - 9.2%
  50. Alaska - 9.1%
  51. New Hampshire - 8.6%

In 2009, median income by state was:

  1. Maryland - $69,193
  2. New Jersey - $68,444
  3. Connecticut - $66,906
  4. Alaska - $66,712
  5. Massachusetts - $64,057
  6. Hawaii - $63,741
  7. New Hampshire - $60,734
  8. Virginia - $59,372
  9. California - $58,925
  10. District of Columbia - $58,906
  11. Delaware - $56,985
  12. Washington - $56,479
  13. Colorado - $55,735
  14. Minnesota - $55,621
  15. Utah - $55,183
  16. New York - $54,554
  17. Wyoming - $54,400
  18. Illinois - $53,974
  19. Nevada - $53,310
  20. Rhode Island - $53,243
  21. Vermont - $51,219
  22. Wisconsin - $49,994
  23. Pennsylvania - $49,501
  24. Arizona - $48,711
  25. Oregon - $48,325
  26. Texas - $48,286
  27. Iowa - $48,065
  28. North Dakota - $47,898
  29. Kansas - $47,709
  30. Nebraska - $47,470
  31. Georgia - $47,469
  32. Maine - $45,708
  33. Ohio - $45,467
  34. Indiana - $45,427
  35. Michigan - $45,254
  36. Missouri - $45,149
  37. South Dakota - $45,048
  38. Florida - $44,755
  39. Idaho - $44,644
  40. North Carolina - $43,754
  41. New Mexico - $42,830
  42. South Carolina - $42,580
  43. Louisiana - $42,460
  44. Montana - $42,222
  45. Oklahoma - $41,716
  46. Tennessee - $41,715
  47. Alabama - $40,547
  48. Kentucky - $40,061
  49. Arkansas - $37,888
  50. West Virginia - $37,423
  51. Mississippi - $36,764

As you can see, the median income state list doesn't correspond exactly to the list of states with the highest percentage of people living in poverty. The median income is simply the middle point at which half of all state residents earn more and half earn less. It does not take into account family size, which is a key factor in determining if a person is considered to be living in poverty.

Considering the Cost of Living

At first glance, poverty statistics seem relatively straightforward. However, it's important to remember that these numbers do not take into account the differences in the cost of living between various states. Knowing how far you can stretch your salary in a particular state is a crucial element in determining if a person has enough money to meet their expenses. You can learn more about state differences in the cost of living by using the calculator on the CNN Money website.

List of U.S. States by Poverty Rate