America’s Richest (and Poorest) States

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41. Oklahoma
> Median household income: $44,312
> Population: 3,814,820 (23rd lowest)
> Unemployment rate: 5.2% (tied-5th lowest)
> Pct. below poverty line: 17.2% (tied-15th highest)

Oklahoma’s median household income was $7,000 less than the national median in 2012. The state also ranked among the lowest in the country for health insurance coverage, with more than 18% of the population lacking coverage as of last year. However, median household income did not decline as much as it did in the rest of the country during the recession. Between 2008 and 2012, the national median income fell by nearly $4,000, but in Oklahoma the drop was just slightly over $1,000. With the state’s economy heavily reliant on the energy industry, rising oil prices helped cushion the effects of the recession.

Also Read: The Worst Economies in the World

42. South Carolina
> Median household income: $43,107
> Population: 4,723,723 (24th highest)
> Unemployment rate: 9.1% (tied-7th highest)
> Pct. below poverty line: 18.3% (9th highest)

Like many states, South Carolina’s median household income declined substantially between 2008 and 2012 — from $47,157 to $43,107. While unemployment fell considerably between 2011 and 2012, South Carolina still had one of the highest unemployment rates in the country last year. Like a number of the states with low median household incomes, South Carolina had a higher-than-average concentration of jobs in manufacturing, at 13.8% of all workers, compared to a national rate of 10.5%.

43. Louisiana
> Median household income: $42,944
> Population: 4,601,893 (25th highest)
> Unemployment rate: 6.4% (15th lowest)
> Pct. below poverty line: 19.9% (3rd highest)

Almost 20% of Louisiana residents lived below the poverty line in 2012, better only than Mississippi and New Mexico. Last year, nearly 18% of households in the state received food stamps, four percentage points above the national rate. Income inequality in the state has become worse in the past decade. As measured by the Gini index, Louisiana is among the five states with the highest income equality. It also had the fourth-highest percentage of households earning less than $10,000 in 2012.

44. Tennessee
> Median household income: $42,764
> Population: 6,456,243 (17th highest)
> Unemployment rate: 8.0% (tied-19th highest)
> Pct. below poverty line: 17.9% (tied-11th highest)

Tennessee’s unemployment rate fell from 9.3% to just 8.0% between 2011 and 2012, one of the largest drops in the nation. However, by many other measures, the state did not improve much in that time. Tennessee’s median household income of less than $43,000 and its poverty rate of nearly 18% were both effectively unchanged from the year before. The state also had one of the highest percentages of residents who received food stamps in 2012, at 17.7%. While Tennessee rates poorly by most measures, only 13.9% of residents lacked health insurance, better than the 14.8% figure nationwide.

45. New Mexico
> Median household income: $42,558
> Population: 2,085,538 (15th lowest)
> Unemployment rate: 6.9% (tied-19th lowest)
> Pct. below poverty line: 20.8% (2nd highest)

New Mexico’s median household income was among the lowest in the country in 2012, but its poverty rate was an even larger problem. More than one in five residents lived below the poverty line in 2012, one of just two states where that was the case. An estimated 7.6% of all households were in extreme poverty, earning less than $10,000 per year. This was the highest percentage of any state except Mississippi. The percentage of households receiving food stamps rose from 15.4% in 2011 to 16.5% last year, among the highest rates in the country.

46. Kentucky
> Median household income: $41,724
> Population: 4,380,415 (25th lowest)
> Unemployment rate: 8.2% (tied-17th highest)
> Pct. below poverty line: 19.4% (5th highest)

Kentucky is, by many measures, one of the most poverty-stricken states in the nation. The state’s 19.4% poverty rate in 2012 was worse than all but four states. Additionally, more than 18.0% of residents received food stamps in 2012, higher than all but two states and up from 17.4% the year before. Among the more positive developments for the state, the unemployment rate fell from 9.5% to 8.2%. But recently, concerns have risen over the state’s coal jobs. Demand for coal has declined due to low natural gas prices, as well as tougher emission controls.

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47. Alabama
> Median household income: $41,574
> Population: 4,822,023 (23rd highest)
> Unemployment rate: 7.3% (tied-22nd highest)
> Pct. below poverty line: 19.0% (7th highest)

After falling by 1.4 percentage points, the unemployment rate in Alabama was just 7.3%, well below the national rate in 2012. Despite this improvement, families in the state still did not make very much money last year, with 6.7% of households earning less than $10,000. Only Mississippi and New Mexico had higher percentages living on so little. About one in six households relied on food stamps in 2012, making Alabama among the 10 states most dependent on these benefits. Despite the high level of poverty, only 13.3% of Alabama residents lacked health insurance last year, better than the national rate.

48. West Virginia
> Median household income: $40,196
> Population: 1,855,413 (13th lowest)
> Unemployment rate: 7.3% (tied-22nd highest)
> Pct. below poverty line: 17.8% (13th highest)

While incomes declined across the country from 2008 to 2012, West Virginia’s median household income was effectively unchanged. Unfortunately, the state’s median income was still the third lowest in the U.S. The state had a high proportion of people employed in low-earning jobs, including retail, agriculture, forestry and fishing. Compared with other states with low median incomes, though, few people in West Virginia went without health care. Just 14.4% of the state’s population lacked health insurance, better than more than half of all states.

49. Arkansas
> Median household income: $40,112
> Population: 2,949,131 (19th lowest)
> Unemployment rate: 7.3% (tied-22nd highest)
> Pct. below poverty line: 19.8% (4th highest)

Arkansas was one of just three states, along with Mississippi and West Virginia, with a median household income $10,000 below the U.S. median. The state’s poverty rate, at nearly 20%, was also among the highest in the country. Despite these problems, unemployment dropped from 7.9% in 2011 to 7.3% last year. Arkansas was also one of the nation’s worst states for food insecurity, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Between 2010 and 2012, an estimated 19.8% of households had little or very little secure access to food, above the 14.7% figure for all U.S. households.

50. Mississippi
> Median household income: $37,095
> Population: 2,984,926 (20th lowest)
> Unemployment rate: 9.2% (6th highest)
> Pct. below poverty line: 24.2% (the highest)

In Mississippi, about one in five households depended on food stamps last year, second only to Oregon. The state’s poverty rate was 24.2%, the highest in the nation by more than three percentage points. Like many of America’s poorest states, the median household income in Mississippi has declined considerably since 2008, when it was just over $40,000. Fewer households earned over $200,000 last year, proportionally, than any other state except West Virginia. In addition to poverty, income inequality was also extremely severe in Mississippi, ranking behind only New York and Connecticut.

Also Read: America’s Richest States

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