Approximately 46 million Americans live in poverty, according to the federal government. Tens of millions more do not live below the poverty line, but nonetheless face financial difficulties living in low-income households.
Wealth is not distributed evenly throughout the country. In some parts of the United States, low incomes and poverty are nearly nonexistent, while poverty is pervasive in others. A typical household in Scarsdale, New York earns nearly a quarter of a million dollars a year, or nearly 15 times the income of a typical household in Centreville, Illinois, of $16,553.
Each state economy is different, and some state populations are, on the whole, far more affluent. But in every state there is at least one town where residents live on incomes well below statewide and nationwide median incomes.
The towns on this list have several notable economic characteristics in common. Educational attainment rates, for example, are frequently indicative of a population’s ability to earn wages above poverty level. In all 50 of the poor towns on this list, the bachelor’s degree attainment rate is lower than the national rate of 29.8%. In all but one town on this list, the college attainment rate is also below the respective state rate.
While real estate prices in larger cities can be prohibitively expensive, in towns and smaller cities, home values tend to reflect how attractive a region is for potential residents as well as the incomes of current residents. In all but two of the poor towns on this list, the typical home is worth less than the national median home value of $178,600. In many cases the typical home is worth less than half the national median.
While each of the towns on this list shares the distinction of having the lowest median income in their state as well as many of the characteristics of poor areas, poverty is much more pervasive in some of the towns on this list.
Ketchikan, Alaska’s poorest town, has a median household income of $53,111 a year, only a few hundred dollars shy of the national median, but more than triple the income of income of Centreville, Illinois, at $16,553. The share of residents living below the official poverty line ranges from 8.6% in Schofield Barracks, Hawaii to 54.2% in San Joaquin, California.
Some of these towns have mitigating factors that lessen the severity of poverty. Some are statewide, such as in Alaska, where residents residents are supported by a statewide oil revenue stipend, ensuring a steady income for every resident. This helps explain why the state’s poorest town is still relatively affluent compared to the other towns on this list.
Locally, the economic makeup of a town can also have a significant impact on how incomes are distributed, and how pervasive poverty is.
Several of the towns on this list, including Schofield Barracks, are military bases that are also Census designated places. These places tend to have low median incomes, likely in part because military pay tends to be relatively low. However, while these soldiers are earning less than many Americans, they are paid enough to remain out of poverty. Schofield Barracks has a poverty rate of just 8.6%, lower than the national rate of 15.5%. Also, because so many residents are government employees, salaries at the upper end of the range are lower. The two towns that are military bases on this list have the most even income distribution in the country.
In the absence of a large employer providing relatively stable, even income, poverty is more common. San Joaquin, California’s poorest town, is in the San Joaquin valley, an area heavily dependent on agriculture and characterized by extremely low-income and inconsistent agriculture jobs.
To determine the poorest town in each state, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed median household incomes in every town with a population between 1,000 and 25,000 in each state from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. All social and economic figures are based on five-year estimates for the period of 2011-2015. To control for potential data errors that can arise in low population areas, 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. We considered the percentage of adults who have at least a bachelor’s degree, the share with a high school diploma, the towns’ poverty rates, uninsured rates, and median home value — all from the ACS. The percentage of housing units that are owned by their occupants — referred to as the homeownership rate — also comes from the ACS. Regional price parity by state is for the most recent available year from the Bureau of Economic Analysis.
These are the poorest town in every state.