Special Report

States Where Poverty Is Worse Than You Think

4. Florida
> Supplemental poverty rate 2011-2013: 19.1% (3rd highest)
> Official poverty rate: 15.1% (18th highest)
> State price level: 16th highest
> Pct. without health insurance: 20.0% (3rd highest)

When supplemental measures were taken into account, nearly 20% of Florida residents lived in poverty — not only one of the largest deviations from the official poverty rate, but also nearly the highest supplemental poverty rate in the country. High out-of-pocket medical expenses likely explain in part the high supplemental poverty rate in the state, as one in five residents didn’t have health insurance in 2013, nearly the highest rate nationwide. Between 2011 and 2012, 58% of school-age children were eligible for free or reduced lunch. While this was one of the highest rates in the country, it clearly was not enough to offset the state’s poverty level.

3. New Jersey
> Supplemental poverty rate 2011-2013: 15.9% (12th highest)
> Official poverty rate: 10.7% (7th lowest)
> State price level:3rd highest
> Pct. without health insurance: 13.2% (24th lowest)

New Jersey had one of the nation’s lowest official poverty rates, at just 10.7% between 2011 and 2013. However, using the supplemental poverty measure, 15.9% of state residents lived in poverty during that time, 12th highest in the country. High prices may be one factor contributing to the area’s higher supplemental rate. As of 2012, New Jersey had the third highest price level of any state, and the fourth highest cost of renting a home. The relatively few individuals claiming an earned income tax credit, as well as the low levels of households receiving food stamp benefits, may play a role in the state’s high supplemental poverty rate as well. Taxes, too, may have played a role. As of fiscal year 2011, New Jersey had the nation’s second highest state and local tax burden, behind only New York, according to the Tax Foundation.

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2. Hawaii
> Supplemental poverty rate 2011-2013: 18.4% (5th highest)
> Official poverty rate: 12.4% (18th lowest)
> State price level: the highest
> Pct. without health insurance: 6.7% (2nd lowest)

Like a majority of states where poverty is worse than it seems, Hawaii residents aged 65 and older were more than twice as likely to live in poverty when supplemental measures were considered, according to a 2013 Kaiser Family Foundation study. Hawaii’s exceptionally high costs of living explain the difference between poverty rates under the official and supplemental poverty measures. Hawaii’s average cost of rent in 2012 was 60% more expensive than the average nationwide and the highest of any state. Because of geographical constraints, Hawaii’s utility costs are also among the nation’s highest. Electricity is supplied primarily by power plants fueled by petroleum, which is imported into the state.

1 California
> Supplemental poverty rate 2011-2013: 23.4% (the highest)
> Official poverty rate: 16.0% (15th highest)
> State price level:4th highest
> Pct. without health insurance: 17.2% (8th highest)

In no state was the gap between the official poverty rate and the supplemental poverty rate wider than in California. Between 2011 and 2013, an average of 16% of residents earned incomes below the poverty line, one of the higher rates in the nation. Once taxes, cost of living, and non-cash income were taken into account, the poverty rate rose to 23.4%, the highest supplemental poverty rate nationwide. California’s high cost of living is the largest force pushing state residents into poverty. The cost of rent relative to the rest of the nation was higher than in every state except for Hawaii in 2012. Every day items are also more expensive in California than in the vast majority of states. And despite a wide-ranging need for government assistance, just 9.4% of households received food stamps last year, one of the lowest rates.

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