Detailed Findings & Methodology
Many counties on this list were once prosperous areas that have yet to recover from the loss of major industries. Counties in Rust Belt states such as Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, and Michigan are still struggling from the loss of the coal and steel industries in the mid-20th century. Increased automation, the flight of the middle class to the outer suburbs, and other factors contributed to job loss and population decline throughout the Midwest, Great Lakes region, and much of Appalachia. While some counties managed to adapt to the changing economy, many were left with high unemployment, poverty, and populations half the size of their mid-century peak.
Similarly, many agriculture-dependent counties in the South, particularly in the Mississippi Delta, have yet to recover from the mechanization of farm labor and outbound migration of African Americans to the West and Northeast during the Great Migration of the second half of the 20th century.
One of the main determinants of income is education. A college degree can increase the likelihood of an individual securing a high-paying job. Also, higher educational attainment rate can attract advanced business and industry to a region. In 46 of the 50 states, the poorest county has a smaller share of adults with a bachelor’s degree than the state as a whole.
A county’s job market can also have a major effect on area incomes. In an area with higher unemployment, not only does the area’s median income fall due to the relatively large share of residents without a steady stream of income, but also the large number of unemployed workers can reduce overall economic activity and lead to lower earnings among the employed. In 45 of the 50 states, the poorest county has a higher unemployment rate than the state.
To determine the poorest county in every state, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed data on median household income for the 2,436 U.S. counties with at least 10,000 residents with data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. Data on poverty, educational attainment, homeownership, median home value, and college enrollment also came from the ACS. All ACS data are five-year averages for 2012-2016. Data on population density came from the Census. Data on unemployment came from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and are seasonally adjusted for November 2017. All data is for the most recent period available.