Special Report

States Where Poverty Is Worse Than You Think

Boston Public Garden, Massachusetts
Source: Thinkstock

8. Massachusetts
> Supplemental poverty rate: 15.1% (14th highest)
> Official poverty rate: 12.5% (23rd lowest)
> Cost of living: 7.1% greater than nation (7th highest)
> Uninsured rate: 2.8% (the lowest)

The typical Massachusetts household earns $70,628 annually, roughly $15,000 more than the median household nationwide. With such relatively high incomes, just 12.5% of Massachusetts residents live below the poverty line, versus the official 14.5% national poverty rate. When adjusted for housing costs, taxes, medical bills, and other expenses, however, the state’s poverty rate climbs to 15.1%, matching the national supplemental poverty rate. The 2.6 percentage point difference between the official and supplemental poverty rates — representing 174,000 residents — may be partially due to the high cost of living in Massachusetts. Rent in the state is 23.5% more expensive than the national average, one of the largest rental price variations in the country.

Richmond Skyline, Virginia
Source: Thinkstock

7. Virginia
> Supplemental poverty rate: 13.3% (25th highest)
> Official poverty rate: 10.3% (6th lowest)
> Cost of living: 2.6% greater than nation (11th highest)
> Uninsured rate: 9.1% (23rd highest)

Some 10.3% of Virginia residents live in poverty, the sixth smallest share of any state and well below the 14.5% national poverty rate. However, Virginia’s supplemental poverty rate — which considers taxes, cost of living, medical bills, and other expenses — is significantly higher at 13.3%. The large gap between the official and supplemental poverty measures may be due to the state’s relatively high cost of living. The average rent in Virginia, for example, costs about 12% more than across the country.

Fort Lauderdale Waterway, Florida
Source: Thinkstock

6. Florida
> Supplemental poverty rate: 19.0% (2nd highest)
> Official poverty rate: 16.0% (13th highest)
> Cost of living: -0.9% less than nation (16th highest)
> Uninsured rate: 13.3% (5th highest)

Based on income before taxes and transfers, an estimated 16% of Florida residents live in poverty, the 13th highest official poverty rate. When adjusted for taxes, cost of living, medical bills, and other expenses, however, Florida’s supplemental poverty rate of 19% is the highest of any state other than California. One explanation for the 3.0 percentage point difference, which represents approximately 600,000 Floridians, may be the high out-of-pocket medical expenses in the state. Medical expenses tend to increase in old age. Close to one in every five Florida residents are 65 or older, the highest share of any state.

Also, more than 13% of Florida residents lack health insurance, the fifth highest uninsured rate nationwide. For those without health insurance, high medical expenses may further increase the difficulty of staying out of poverty.

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