The Poorest County in Every State

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Source: JERRYE AND ROY KLOTZ MD / Wikimedia Commons

41. South Dakota: Mellette County
> County median household income: $31,165
> State median household income: $54,126
> Poverty rate: 42.6%
> Unemployment rate: 4.1%

The typical household in Mellette County, South Dakota, earns just $31,165 a year, about $23,000 less than the median income across the state as a whole. The area’s low incomes are partially attributable to a weak job market. Some 4.1% of workers in the county are out of a job, well above the 2.6% state unemployment rate.

A far larger than typical share of those who are working in the county are employed in jobs in relatively low-paying industries. For example, 17.6% of workers in the county are employed in farming, hunting, fishing, forestry, and mining occupations. Nationwide, only about 2% of workers are employed in those jobs.

Source: Brian Stansberry / Wikimedia Commons

42. Tennessee: Scott County
> County median household income: $31,875
> State median household income: $48,708
> Poverty rate: 26.2%
> Unemployment rate: 4.8%

In Scott County, the unemployment rate is 4.8%, more than a full percentage point higher than it is across Tennessee. The relatively high unemployment rate likely contributes to the low median income and high poverty rate in the area. More than a quarter of residents, 26.2%, live below the poverty line. Most households in the county live on less than $32,000 a year.

Tennessee’s population change over the past five years was in line with the U.S. population growth rate of 3.8%. Yet, perhaps because of relatively weak economic conditions, Scott County’s population fell by 1.1% in that same time.

Source: 56775593@N05 / Flickr

43. Texas: Starr County
> County median household income: $27,133
> State median household income: $57,051
> Poverty rate: 35.0%
> Unemployment rate: 7.9%

Starr County is located in southern Texas along the U.S. border with Mexico. The typical county household earns just $27,133 a year, less than half the median income across Texas as a whole of $57,051 a year. Serious financial hardship is common in the county as more than one in every three residents live below the poverty line.

Many poor counties have weak job markets, and Starr County has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country. Some 7.9% of workers in the county are out of a job, more than double the 3.5% unemployment rate in Texas.

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44. Utah: Wayne County
> County median household income: $42,444
> State median household income: $65,325
> Poverty rate: 9.2%
> Unemployment rate: 2.9%

The typical household in Wayne County, Utah earns $42,444 a year, about $23,000 less than the typical Utah household. Though Wayne County is the least affluent area in Utah, a relatively small share of residents are impoverished. The county’s poverty rate of 9.2% is well below the state’s poverty rate of 11%. Nearly a quarter of Wayne County residents work in blue-collar jobs. Nearly 15% of county workers are employed in the construction sector, and 10% work in agriculture, forestry, fishing, hunting, or mining — compared to 6.4% and 1.9% employment concentrations nationwide, respectively. These jobs are not often especially high-paying, but can provide enough income to keep above the poverty line.

Source: mar_ibert / Flickr

45. Vermont: Essex County
> County median household income: $38,767
> State median household income: $57,808
> Poverty rate: 15.5%
> Unemployment rate: 2.3%

Just 14.7% of adults in Essex County, Vermont hold at least a bachelor’s degree, less than half of the state and national bachelor’s degree attainment rates. Low educational attainment suggests that a small share of the working population are qualified for many traditionally high-paying jobs. Most households in Essex County earn less than $39,000 a year, well below the $57,808 statewide median income.