The County Where the Most People Live Below the Poverty Line

The poverty rate in American has been falling over the past several years. In 2014, the poverty rate was 14.8%. It dropped to 11.8% in 2018 and 10.5% in 2019. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, this was the lowest level since 1959. The number of people who live in poverty remained a staggering 34 million in 2019. Among certain groups, the figure is worse. The percentage of Black Americans who lived below the poverty line was 18.8%.

To determine the county with the highest poverty rate in every state, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed five-year estimates of the percentage of people who live below the poverty line from the Census Bureau’s 2019 American Community Survey (ACS). For reference, the Department of Health and Human Services sets the official poverty threshold at an annual income of no more than approximately $26,000 for a family of four.

According to the 2019 five-year estimate, 13.2% of Americans live below the poverty line. People struggling with poverty can be found all over the country, but the places where poverty is especially common are concentrated in 14 states, primarily in the South. States there have among the highest poverty rates.

While poverty rates do not correspond perfectly with median incomes, counties with higher poverty rates tend to have lower incomes. They also tend to have higher shares of residents receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, formerly known as food stamps.

Of the 3,220 counties or equivalents, 3,142 had boundaries that fell within one of the 50 states or the District of Columbia. Counties were excluded if poverty rates were not available in the 2019 ACS; if the population living below the poverty line was less than 1,000; if 25% or more of a town’s population was enrolled in undergraduate, professional or graduate school during the same period; or if the sampling error associated with a county’s data was deemed too high.

The sampling error was defined as too high if the coefficient of variation (a statistical assessment of how reliable an estimate is) for a county’s poverty rate was above 15% and greater than two standard deviations above the mean coefficient of variation for all counties’ poverty rates. We similarly excluded counties that had a sampling error too high for their population, using the same definition.

The remaining 2,985 places were ranked based on their poverty rates. Additional information on the number of people living below the poverty line, median household income and the share of households receiving SNAP benefits are also five-year estimates from the 2019 ACS.

The county with the most people who live below the poverty line is Todd County, South Dakota. Here are the details:

  • Poverty rate: 55.5%
  • Number of people living below poverty line: 5,584 (1,191st highest)
  • Households receiving SNAP benefits: 38.7% (ninth highest)
  • Median household income: $24,331 (eighth lowest)

Click here to see all the counties with the most people living below the poverty line.