Poverty in the United States is not uniform and varies from place to place. Still, each state — no matter how rich — has some poor towns. In every state, there was at least one town with a median annual household income thousands of dollars lower than the state’s median income. In Cumberland, Maryland and Cairo, Illinois the difference was far greater — each had median household incomes at least $40,000 lower than the states’ income figures.
Socioeconomic indicators, such as low educational attainment rates, largely explain the low incomes in many of these towns. The poorest towns in only three states had a college attainment rate that exceeded the national rate of 28.8%. In contrast, the richest towns in all but six states had a college attainment rate greater than the national rate. And in 30 states, more than 50% of residents in the richest towns had at least a bachelor’s degree.
Since every state must have a poorest town, and some states have far higher incomes than others, a state’s poorest town was not always especially poor compared to other states or the nation. Alaska, for example, had a median household income of $70,760 — the third highest nationwide. It’s poorest town, however, Ketchikan, had a median household income of $52,266, roughly in line with the national income figure, and higher than the typical household income in many states.
In other instances, the poorest town in a given state served to illustrate the high income inequality in the state. In New York, which had one of the higher median household incomes compared to other states, the poorest town, Kaser village, was among the poorest towns in the nation. The difference between the towns with the highest and lowest annual income exceeded $100,000 in just 10 states.
To identify the poorest town in each state, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed median household incomes for every town with populations of 25,000 or less in each state from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS). Due to relatively small sample sizes for town-level data, all social and economic figures are based on five-year estimates for the period 2009-2013. Still, data can be subject to sampling issues. We did not consider towns where the margin of error at 90% confidence was greater than 10% of the point estimate of both median household income and population. Additionally, we did not include Census Designated Places (CDPs). For this reason Rhode Island and Hawaii were excluded. Towns were compared to both the state and national figures. We considered the percentage of residents who had at least a bachelor’s degree, the towns’ poverty rates, and workforce composition — all from the ACS. The percentage of housing units that were owned by their occupants — referred to as the homeownership rate — also came from the ACS.
These are the poorest towns in each state.