Special Report

16 States Where Poverty Is Worse Than You Might Think

Source: ChrisBoswell / Getty Images

6. New Hampshire
> Supplemental poverty rate: 8.3% (7th lowest)
> Official poverty rate: 5.6% (the lowest)
> Cost of living: 6.0% more than the national average (9th highest)
> Median household income: $77,933 (8th highest)
> Households receiving SNAP benefits: 6.9% (3rd lowest)

While reporting the sixth largest difference between its official and supplemental poverty rates, New Hampshire appears to have one of the most manageable poverty problems of all states. The state’s official poverty rate and SPM are 5.6% and 8.3%, respectively, the lowest and 7seventh lowest rates in the nation.

The Census Bureau identified the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) as the third most impactful anti-poverty program after Social Security and refundable tax credits, as measured by the difference between the official poverty rate and supplemental poverty measure. In New Hampshire, likely because of how relatively few people in the state are living in poverty, only 6.9% of households receive SNAP benefits, the third lowest such share of all states.

The high cost of living in New Hampshire, where prices are estimated at 6.0% higher than average costs of goods and services nationwide, is likely one of the main drivers of the large difference in the state’s official and supplemental poverty measures.

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5. Delaware
> Supplemental poverty rate: 10.5% (21st lowest)
> Official poverty rate: 7.6% (5th lowest)
> Cost of living: 1.2% less than the national average (18th highest)
> Median household income: $70,176 (16th highest)
> Households receiving SNAP benefits: 11.1% (23rd lowest)

More than one in four children in Delaware live in households that receive supplemental security income, cash public assistance income, or SNAP benefits — the ninth largest share of all states.

Despite the broad usage of these benefits, after adjusting for such anti-poverty subsidies as well as medical expenses and taxes, the percentage of Delaware residents in poverty increases from 7.6%, the fifth lowest rate, to an SPM rate of 11.9%. While the state’s SPM is 21st lowest compared to other states, the difference from the official rate is larger than in all but four other states.

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4. Hawaii
> Supplemental poverty rate: 13.4% (8th highest)
> Official poverty rate: 9.4% (13th lowest)
> Cost of living: 18.1% more than the national average (the highest)
> Median household income: $83,102 (4th highest)
> Households receiving SNAP benefits: 11.2% (24th lowest)

The SPM takes into account regional geographic variations in housing costs to better understand how many individuals are struggling financially in a given area. Hawaii has the most expensive housing market in the country, with the typical home valued at a stunning $669,200 — nearly three times the U.S. median home value of $240,500. Goods and services cost 18.1% more in Hawaii than they do on average nationwide, the highest cost of living of any state.

When accounting for these factors, approximately 56,000 more people in Hawaii are living in poverty than measured by the official poverty rate. This difference results in the fourth largest percentage point difference between the state’s official and supplemental poverty measures, which at 9.4% and 13.4% are the 13th lowest and 8th highest rates in the nation, respectively.

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3. New Jersey
> Supplemental poverty rate: 12.5% (15th highest)
> Official poverty rate: 8.2% (6th lowest)
> Cost of living: 15.2% more than the national average (4th highest)
> Median household income: $85,751 (3rd highest)
> Households receiving SNAP benefits: 8.0% (7th lowest)

After adjusting for medical costs, work expenses, taxes, and other factors included in the supplemental poverty measure, the percentage of New Jersey residents considered living below the poverty line rises from 8.2% — the sixth lowest poverty rate of any state — to 12.5%, the 15th highest supplemental poverty rate.

One factor accounting for the large spike may be the high cost of living in New Jersey. Goods and services cost 15.2% more in the state than they do on average nationwide, the fourth highest markup of any state. Despite the high cost of living, the average SNAP benefit payout is $111 per household member per month, the ninth lowest amount. Just 74.0% of eligible individuals receive SNAP, also the ninth smallest such figure.

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2. Maryland
> Supplemental poverty rate: 12.0% (18th highest)
> Official poverty rate: 7.6% (5th lowest)
> Cost of living: 8.4% more than the national average (6th highest)
> Median household income: $86,738 (the highest)
> Households receiving SNAP benefits: 10.4% (20th lowest)

Based on median household income, Maryland residents are the wealthiest in the nation. The typical household brings in $86,738 annually, compared to the median income nationwide of $65,712. The typical home in Maryland is worth $332,500, the ninth highest median home value of any state and over $90,000 more than the U.S. median. On average, goods and services cost 8.4% more in Maryland than they do on average nationwide, the sixth highest cost of living of any state.

High pre-tax incomes, home values, and cost of living correspond with a low official poverty rate of 7.6%, which is common among states on this list where the official poverty rate underestimates the level of financial distress. When accounting for these additional factors affecting family budgets, approximately 267,000 more people in Maryland are living in poverty than measured by the official poverty rate.