Special Report

Cities With the Highest Poverty Rates

Detailed Findings

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, sometimes referred to as food stamps, are intended to help the poorest Americans afford groceries. Not surprisingly, the U.S. cities with the highest poverty rates also tend to be home to a higher than typical share of residents who depend on SNAP. Of the 38 metro areas on this list, 30 have a higher SNAP recipiency rate than the comparable 11.7% national share. The three metro areas with the highest poverty rates — Laredo, Texas, Las Cruces, New Mexico, and McAllen, Texas — also have the highest SNAP recipiency rates, at 28.0%, 26.4%, and 30.5%, respectively.

The U.S. cities with the highest poverty rates also are home to larger than typical shares of households facing extreme poverty. In most of the country, an individual earning $12,140 or less a year is living on poverty level income. Nationwide, some 6.5% of households earn $10,000 or less a year. Nearly every city on this list is home to a larger share of households earning $10,000 or less

In many cities on this list, a stalled economy and lack of job opportunities likely contribute to the widespread poverty. In 28 of the 38 metro areas with the highest poverty rates, the annual unemployment rate is greater than or equal to the 2017 U.S. jobless rate of 4.4%. In El Centro, California, a metro area with a nation-leading 19.1% unemployment rate, 24.6% of the population lives below the poverty line, a higher poverty rate than in all but handful of U.S. metro areas.

Higher educational attainment rates often are indicative of areas where people are able to afford higher education. Of course, higher education also can be a means of escaping poverty and earning higher wages. All but seven of the 38 metropolitan areas with the highest poverty rates have adult college attainment rates below the national rate of 32%. In 15 of the 38 metropolitan areas on this list, less than 20% of adults have at least a bachelor’s degree.

To identify the cities with the highest poverty rates, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed recently released poverty rates data for 382 U.S. metro areas from the 2017 1-year American Community Survey. Only those areas with poverty rates of 20% or greater were included on this list. Poverty rates, as well as median household income, SNAP recipiency, and the share of households with annual incomes below $10,000 also came from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2017 American Community Survey. Annual unemployment figures are for 2017 and came from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

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