Special Report

Poverty in America

Who Lives in Poverty

Some groups of Americans are at a significantly higher risk of living in poverty. There are differences along gender, age, racial, and geographical lines.

Women are more likely to live in poverty than men, as are working-age adults compared to elderly Americans. Poverty rates are highest in the West and South and lowest in the Midwest and Northeast. Veterans, single mothers, those without a high school education, the disabled, and city-dwellers, are all at higher risk of living in poverty.

Children are at a particularly high risk — especially young children. Based on the supplemental poverty rate, close to one in five children under 5 years old, about 19.5 million in all, live in households reporting poverty-level incomes.

There are also clear differences along racial and ethnic lines. Black Americans, as well as Hispanic and Latino Americans, are each about twice as likely to live in poverty as white Americans. Native Americans and Alaskan natives are at an even higher risk — more than one in four live in poverty.

For individuals who belong into more than one of these groups, the risks can be compounded. Young black Americans, for example, are one of the most at risk groups, with a poverty rate in excess of 30%. Among single black mothers, the poverty rate exceeds 40%.

An individual’s profession also changes the likelihood of living in poverty. Farming in general and dairy farming in particular are notable examples. The USDA reported in January that approximately 17,000 dairy farm operations have closed down over the last decade. According to the latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Americans employed in the farming, fishing, and forestry industry are the most likely to live in poverty. Americans working service jobs are also among the most impoverished.

It is important to note that while certain groups are more likely to live in poverty, no one is immune to being poor. One survey by the Associated Press found that four out of five U.S. adults have limited economic security, which can lead to poverty at some point in their lives. People move in and out of poverty over the course of their lives, and many from middle- and upper-class backgrounds with years of steady employment can fall into poverty and not recover.

Click here to see who lives in poverty in charts.

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