Special Report

America's Richest (and Poorest) States

The Poorest States in America

10. Oklahoma
> Median household income: $45,690
> Population: 3,850,568 (23rd lowest)
> Unemployment rate: 5.4% (11th lowest)
> Pct. Below poverty line: 16.8% (16th highest)

Oklahoma is one of the poorest states in the nation, with a median household income of $45,690 last year. However, this figure was notably higher than in 2012, when the median income, adjusted for inflation, was $44,903. The percentage of residents with health insurance coverage also improved. In 2012, 18.4% of residents did not have health insurance, the fifth highest percentage in the nation. Last year, that number fell to 17.7%, better than six other states. This figure could decline even further in the future. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as private entities such as Gallup and RAND corporation, indicate a substantial decrease in the percentage of Americans without health insurance so far in 2014.

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9. Tennessee
> Median household income: $44,297
> Population: 6,495,978 (17th highest)
> Unemployment rate: 8.2% (10th highest)
> Pct. Below poverty line: 17.8% (12th highest)

Tennessee had one of the nation’s lowest household median incomes as well as one of the nation’s higher poverty rates last year. Also, 17.2% of residents relied on food stamps last year, more than in all but a handful of states. Like in many other poor states, Tennessee residents were more likely than most Americans to work in the retail industry, a traditionally low-paying sector. Income was more unevenly distributed in Tennessee than in all but a handful of other states last year. However, more residents were covered by health insurance in 2013 than in a number of much wealthier states.

8. Louisiana
> Median household income: $44,164
> Population: 4,625,470 (25th highest)
> Unemployment rate: 6.2% (15th lowest)
> Pct. Below poverty line: 19.8% (3rd highest)

Nearly one in five Louisiana residents lived in poverty last year, more than in all but two other states, and considerably higher than the national poverty rate of 15.8%. While the poverty threshold for a one-person household was an annual income of as little as as $11,490 in 2013, many multi-member households in Louisiana earned considerably less than that. More than one in 10 households earned less than $10,000 last year, more than in every state except for Mississippi. Also, only two other states had worse income distribution in 2013.

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7. South Carolina
> Median household income: $44,163
> Population: 4,774,839 (24th largest)
> Unemployment rate: 7.6% (16th lowest)
> Pct. Below poverty line: 18.6% (8th highest)

South Carolina had one of the nation’s largest declines in unemployment rate in 2013, as the percentage of workers without a job fell from 9.0% in 2012 to 7.6% last year. Like many other states with low median household incomes, a high percentage of South Carolina residents lived in poverty last year. South Carolina’s poverty rate was 18.6% in 2013, up considerably from 2009, when 17.1% of the state’s population lived below the poverty line. The percentage of households utilizing food stamp benefits also rose from 12.4% to 15.5% in that time.

6. New Mexico
> Median household income: $43,872
> Population: 2,085,287 (15th smallest)
> Unemployment rate: 6.9% (24th lowest)
> Pct. Below poverty line: 21.9% (2nd highest)

Nearly 22% of New Mexico residents lived in poverty last year, the second highest percentage in the country and an increase from 2012. The state was among the worst for income inequality, which may help explain its high poverty rate, as well as its wide variation in home values.early one in seven New Mexican homes were valued below $50,00. And while the unemployment rate was 6.9% in 2013, below the 2013 national rate, nearly 17% of New Mexico’s labor force was employed in the trade, transportation, and utilities sectors, which are historically low paying. In 2013, those sectors had an average hourly wage of $20.98.

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