Special Report

16 States Where Poverty Is Worse Than You Might Think

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11. Virginia
> Supplemental poverty rate: 11.5% (20th highest)
> Official poverty rate: 9.7% (15th lowest)
> Cost of living: 2.0% more than the national average (12th highest)
> Median household income: $76,456 (10th highest)
> Households receiving SNAP benefits: 8.3% (10th lowest)

In most states, the official poverty rate is the same or slightly higher than the more accurate SPM. As is generally the case in more affluent states, however, the opposite is true in Virginia. When accounting for the effects of anti-poverty programs as well as the costs of living in the state, approximately 146,000 more state residents are considered to be living in poverty than measured by the official poverty rate.

For those in the state who are on the edge of official poverty thresholds, general expenses and the state’s high cost of living can be the difference between income below above the poverty line. Basic goods and services cost 2% more in Virginia than average prices nationwide, the 12th highest cost of living of all states.

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10. Massachusetts
> Supplemental poverty rate: 11.2% (23rd highest)
> Official poverty rate: 9.2% (12th lowest)
> Cost of living: 9.7% more than the national average (5th highest)
> Median household income: $85,843 (2nd highest)
> Households receiving SNAP benefits: 12.0% (19th highest)

The typical home in Massachusetts is valued at $418,600, the third highest median home value of any state and $178,000 more than the U.S. figure. On average, goods and services in the state cost 9.7 cents more on the dollar than they do nationwide, the fifth highest cost of living of any state.

After adjusting for the high cost of living, as well as other expenses such as out-of-pocket medical costs, taxes, and government aid programs and subsidies, the percentage of residents living in poverty in Massachusetts rises from 9.2% to 11.2% — a difference of 137,000 people.

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9. Colorado
> Supplemental poverty rate: 11.3% (22nd highest)
> Official poverty rate: 9.1% (11th lowest)
> Cost of living: 1.9% more than the national average (13th highest)
> Median household income: $77,127 (9th highest)
> Households receiving SNAP benefits: 7.5% (4th lowest)

When accounting for cost of living, as well as other expenses such as out-of-pocket medical costs, taxes, and government aid programs and subsidies, approximately 124,000 more people in Colorado are living in poverty than measured by the official poverty rate. The official rate, which at 9.1% is the 11th lowest of all states, rises would rise to 11.3% — the 22nd highest SPM.

One factor contributing to the increase may be low WIC recipiency. The federal Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program provides grant money to states for food, health care, and nutrition education for low-income women and children and has a significant impact on the share of individuals living below the poverty line. Just 40.7% of eligible women and children in Colorado receive WIC benefits, the fifth smallest share of any state.

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8. New York
> Supplemental poverty rate: 14.4% (5th highest)
> Official poverty rate: 12.1% (15th highest)
> Cost of living: 16.4% more than the national average (2nd highest)
> Median household income: $72,108 (14th highest)
> Households receiving SNAP benefits: 14.9% (4th highest)

In most states where poverty is worse than you might think, the official poverty rate is relatively low, but not in New York. The state’s 12.1% poverty rate is higher than the national rate. The already high level of poverty in New York rises further under the SPM to 14.4% – the fifth highest supplemental poverty rate of all states.

High rents in New York City — where over 40% of the state’s population lives — are likely one factor driving the high SPM rate. The typical home in New York state costs $338,700, the eighth highest median home value of any state. Overall, goods and services cost 16.4% more in the state than they do on average nationwide, the second highest cost of living in the country.

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7. Florida
> Supplemental poverty rate: 15.4% (3rd highest)
> Official poverty rate: 12.9% (11th highest)
> Cost of living: 0.6% more than the national average (15th highest)
> Median household income: $59,227 (17th lowest)
> Households receiving SNAP benefits: 12.4% (14th highest)

According to the official poverty measure, 12.9% of Florida residents live in households with income below the poverty threshold. After accounting for factors like taxes, cost of living, and other expenses included in the supplemental poverty measure, however, the percentage of residents living in poverty rises to 15.4% — the third highest SPM of any state. Under the revised measure, approximately 541,000 more people in Florida are living in poverty than measured by the official poverty rate.

One expense contributing to the high SPM in Florida may be the medical costs incurred by the state’s large uninsured population. Uninsured Americans are often subject to higher medical care costs than individuals with health insurance, and it is more difficult for them to pay their bills. In Florida, approximately 13.2% of residents do not have health insurance, the fourth highest uninsured rate of any state.