Cities Where Having a Job Doesn’t Keep You Out of Poverty

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Source: DenisTangneyJr / Getty Images

4. Brownsville-Harlingen, TX
> Poverty rate of full-time workforce: 10.8%
> Official poverty rate: 31.2% (top 10%)
> June 2019 unemployment rate: 5.4% (top 10%)
> Avg. workweek: 38.1 hours (bottom 40%)

Located in the southern tip of Texas along the U.S.-Mexico border, the Brownsville-Harlingen metro area is one of the poorest cities in the country. The typical household earns just $36,374 a year, the lowest median household income of any metro. Some 5.4% of the labor force is unemployed, and 31.2% of residents live in poverty — each among the highest such figures of any city.

Even residents with full-time jobs in Brownsville struggle with poverty. Of the estimated 103,936 adults with full-time, year-round jobs in Brownsville, 10.8% live below the poverty line — more than three times the 3.0% national working poverty rate.


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3. Idaho Falls, ID
> Poverty rate of full-time workforce: 4.0%
> Official poverty rate: 11.5% (bottom 20%)
> June 2019 unemployment rate: 2.3% (bottom 10%)
> Avg. workweek: 38.0 hours (bottom 40%)

Located along the Snake River between Grand Teton National Park and Sawtooth National Forest, Idaho Falls is one of several small, tourist-friendly metro areas with low income inequality, where the difference in the likelihood of living in poverty between those with and without a job is relatively small. While nationwide, Americans with a full-time, year-round job are 4.9 times as likely to not live in poverty as the general public, in Idaho Falls, full-time workers are just 2.9 times as likely to not live in poverty.

Similarly, while nationwide individuals with a college degree are 5.9 times as likely as those who did not graduate from high school to not live in poverty, in Idaho Falls, college graduates are just 3.1 times as likely to not be in poverty — the fifth smallest difference of any city.

Source: DenisTangneyJr / Getty Images

2. McAllen-Edinburg-Mission, TX
> Poverty rate of full-time workforce: 11.3%
> Official poverty rate: 31.8% (top 10%)
> June 2019 unemployment rate: 5.9% (top 10%)
> Avg. workweek: 39.2 hours (top 30%)

Located on the U.S.-Mexico border, the McAllen-Edinburg-Mission metro area is a major port of trade. Some 28.5% of workers are employed in the trade, transportation, and utilities sector, the 12th largest share of any city. The average trade worker in the metro area earns just $649 a week, $267 below the average for the sector nationwide and $452 below the average earnings for all U.S. workers.

The prevalence of low-wage industries and other poor economic conditions leave many full-time workers in McAllen struggling to stay out of poverty. Of the 203,360 workers with full-time, year-round jobs in McAllen, 11.3% live below the poverty line — more than three times the 3.0% national working poverty rate.

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1. The Villages, FL
> Poverty rate of full-time workforce: 4.4%
> Official poverty rate: 9.2% (bottom 10%)
> June 2019 unemployment rate: 4.9% (top 20%)
> Avg. workweek: 36.4 hours (bottom 10%)

The Villages is a retirement community that constitutes the bulk of the population of Sumter County. Just 34.5% of the population aged 16 to 64 works in full-time, year-round jobs, the smallest share of any U.S. metro area.

For the minority of workers who work full-time, many work in the low-paying jobs in the retirement industry. Some 25.0% of workers are employed in education and health services, and 9.5% are employed in leisure and hospitality — each among the largest share of any city. The average wage for workers in the education and health services and leisure and hospitality sectors are $835 and $405 a week, respectively, far less than the $1,101 average pay for all workers nationwide.