Special Report

The Poorest County in Every State

Source: Brent Moore / Flickr

1. Sumter County, Alabama
> County median household income: $20,428
> State median household income: $44,758
> Poverty rate: 36.7%
> Nov. unemployment: 5.4%

Sumter is the poorest county in one of the poorest states. The typical household in Sumter County earns just $20,428 a year, less than half the median household income for Alabama as a whole of $44,758 and the second lowest of any U.S. county with a population of at least 10,000 people.

Some 36.7% of county residents live in poverty, also the largest share of any county with at least 10,000 residents in the state. A weak job market may partially explain low incomes in the area. While Alabama’s unemployment rate of 3.6% is lower than in most states and lower than the nationwide jobless rate of 4.1%, Sumter County’s unemployment rate is much higher at 5.4%.

Source: Travis / Flickr

2. Bethel Census Area, Alaska
> County median household income: $53,296
> State median household income: $74,444
> Poverty rate: 26.6%
> Nov. unemployment: 13.0%

The poorest county in one of the wealthiest states, the Bethel Census Area median household income is $53,296 a year — far less than the statewide median income of $74,444 yet nearly on par with the national median of $55,322. While the Port of Bethel is the only port on the Kuskokwim River and the area serves as a major transportation hub for the 50 villages in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta region, the area suffers from poverty and high unemployment. Some 26.6% of census area residents live in poverty, and 13.0% of the workforce is unemployed, each some of the highest such figures in the country. Bethel’s economy is largely based on services, government, and salmon fishing, and a relatively small share of residents have a college education. Just 11.4% of Bethel adults have a bachelor’s degree, the smallest share in Alaska and nearly a third of the national figure.

Source: Bill Eichelberger / Flickr

3. Apache County, Arizona
> County median household income: $32,460
> State median household income: $51,340
> Poverty rate: 36.2%
> Nov. unemployment: 9.2%

Roughly two-thirds of Apache County residents are Navajo, and more than half of the county’s land belongs to the Navajo Nation. Apache County is also home to the Fort Apache Indian Reservation and the Pueblo of Zuni. Indian reservations historically have been beset by numerous economic problems. The typical household in Apache County earns just $32,460 a year, the least of any county in Arizona and far less than the median household incomes statewide of $51,340 and nationwide of $55,322.

An estimated 36.2% of county residents live in poverty, the largest share of any county in Arizona. Some 9.2% of the county’s workforce are unemployed, more than double the statewide unemployment rate of 4.3% and nationwide rate of 4.1%.

Source: formulaone / Flickr

4. Desha County, Arkansas
> County median household income: $26,519
> State median household income: $42,336
> Poverty rate: 32.0%
> Nov. unemployment: 4.1%

While Desha County once flourished in the cotton-based economy of the antebellum South, the area suffered population and economic decline throughout the second half of the 20th century. Some 12,234 residents currently reside in Desha County, less than half the peak of 27,160 residents in 1940. The typical household earns just $26,519 a year, the least of any county in Arkansas and less than half the national median household income of $55,322. Some 32.0% of Desha County residents live below the poverty line, far more than the 18.8% state and 15.1% national poverty rates.

Source: throgers / Flickr

5. Trinity County, California
> County median household income: $35,270
> State median household income: $63,783
> Poverty rate: 20.1%
> Nov. unemployment: 5.2%

Trinity is a small county located near the coast in northern California. One of original counties formed in 1850 at the beginning of California’s statehood, Trinity County is still home to some of the oldest buildings in the state. WIth just four people per square mile, it is one of the least densely populated counties in California and lacks much of the economic activity prevalent in the more dense and prosperous parts of the state.

The typical county household earns just $35,270 a year, the least of any California county and far less than the median household income for California of $63,783. Despite the low incomes, there are dozens of counties in California where a larger share of residents struggle financially than in Trinity County. In counties such as Tulare, Fresno, and Merced in the San Joaquin Valley, the average poverty and unemployment rates are 26.5% and 8.1%, respectively. In Trinity, the poverty rate is 20.1% and the jobless rate is 5.2%.