The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services currently defines the federal poverty line at $12,880 for individuals, $26,500 for families of four in the continental U.S. (the rates are slightly higher for Alaska and Hawaii). Those figures, of course, are far below the income a family really needs to avoid poverty in every state.
Hardly surprisingly, considering the financial strains caused by the pandemic, the poverty level in this country is rising. Between June and November of last year, the overall percentage of Americans living below the poverty line rose from 9.3% to 11.7% — the highest single-year increase since 1960, when the government started tracking such things. (This information came to light in to a report released in December by financial experts at the University of Notre Dame, the University of Chicago, and China’s Zhejiang University.)
The poverty rate for certain groups — those without a college degree, African-Americans, and children under the age of 17 — was even higher. (About 2.3 million children fell into poverty between June and November. You may be distressed to learn how many children live in poverty in your state.)
In addition, the numbers in individual cities and towns can soar much higher than the national averages. The sole Western representative in a list of the ten poorest big cities in the country, Los Angeles, records a rate of 16.7%. But as is the case elsewhere in the country, the poorest places are mostly small towns, localities like Madrone, N.M. (pop. 590), and Whitecone, Ariz. (pop. 871). In places like these, the poverty rate can be shocking, reaching as high as 81.8% in the most extreme case.
Arizona fares worst on this list, as home to ten of the 25 poorest places in the region. New Mexico comes next with seven, followed by California with six. Alaska and Hawaii account for one apiece. All these states have wealthy communities, too, of course, but too many parts of the region are economically depressed, especially in areas with significant Latino, African-American, and Native American and other indigenous populations.
Federal stimulus efforts might well help such places, but they will doubtless remain among the country’s most economically vulnerable locations.
To identify the poorest places in the West, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the poverty rate — the percentage of all people who live in poverty — in the approximately 20,000 places with 500 or more residents using data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2019 American Community Survey.
The areas reviewed include cities, towns, as well as unincorporated areas known as Census Designated Places, or CDPs. These are the 50 places with the highest poverty rates. Each area’s median household income and population totals also came from the ACS. All data are 5-year averages through 2019, and do not reflect impacts associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. We only considered places where less than 25% of the population are enrolled in college or graduate school.