16. Kansas: Crawford County
> County median household income: $38,017
> State median household income: $55,477
> Poverty rate: 21.1%
> Unemployment rate: 3.5%
Crawford County is located in southeastern Kansas along the Missouri state border. The typical household in Crawford earns just $38,017 a year, the least of any county in the state. More than one in five Crawford County residents live in poverty, and about one in every 10 area households earn less than $10,000 a year.
Many of the counties on this list are home to relatively few college-educated adults, but Crawford is a notable exception. Some 28.9% of area adults have at least a bachelor’s degree, only slightly below the 32.3% statewide and 30.9% nationwide bachelor’s degree attainment rates. The relatively high educational attainment in Crawford County is likely attributable to the presence of Pittsburg State University, a public institution with just under 6,000 students.
17. Kentucky: McCreary County
> County median household income: $19,264
> State median household income: $46,535
> Poverty rate: 41.0%
> Unemployment rate: 5.9%
McCreary County is located in the Daniel Boone National Forest in southern Kentucky along the Tennessee state border. The only county nationwide where most households earn less than $20,000 a year, McCreary is the poorest county in both Kentucky and the United States.
Low incomes are precipitated in part by a weak job market. Unemployment in the county stood at 5.9% as of October 2018, well above the 4.2% state and 3.8% national unemployment rates. Poorer Americans can afford fewer healthy options related to diet and lifestyle, and partially as a result, often have a lower life expectancy. In McCreary County, the average life expectancy at birth of just 73 years is 6 years below the national average.
18. Louisiana: Claiborne Parish
> County median household income: $26,877
> State median household income: $46,710
> Poverty rate: 29.9%
> Unemployment rate: 4.9%
The typical household in Louisiana’s Claiborne Parish earns just $26,877 a year, about $20,000 less than what the typical household in the state earns. Less than 1% of area households earn $200,000 or more a year, and 17.3% earn less than $10,000 a year.
Located in northern Louisiana along the Arkansas state border, Claiborne — like other counties on this list — is shrinking rapidly. In the last five years, the number of people living in Claiborne fell by 4.5%, even as Louisiana’s population grew by 3.0%.
19. Maine: Piscataquis County
> County median household income: $38,797
> State median household income: $53,024
> Poverty rate: 18.7%
> Unemployment rate: 3.6%
The typical household in Piscataquis County, Maine, earns just $38,797 a year, the least of any county in the state and nearly the lowest median household income in the broader New England region. Additionally, 18.7% of county residents live below the poverty line, the second largest share of any New England county.
Like many counties on this list, Piscataquis is a rural county with a declining population. In the last five years, the number of people living there fell by 2.7%. Over the same period, Maine’s population has remained flat.
20. Maryland: Allegany County
> County median household income: $42,771
> State median household income: $78,916
> Poverty rate: 16.8%
> Unemployment rate: 4.8%
Maryland is the wealthiest state in the country. The typical household in the state earns $78,916 a year, about $21,000 more than the typical American household. Even in Allegany County, the poorest county in Maryland, the typical household earns $42,771, in line with the median income of some states. The 16.8% poverty rate in the county is only slightly higher than the 14.6% poverty rate nationwide.
Allegany County is located in northwestern Maryland, sandwiched between West Virginia and Pennsylvania. Wealthier counties in the state are located further south around Washington, D.C.