The COVID-19 pandemic sent the U.S. unemployment rate to 14.8% in April 2020, its highest level since the Great Depression. Normally, such an economic shock would result in a spike in the national poverty rate. However, due to three rounds of economic stimulus payments, some experts predict the poverty rate may actually decline substantially in 2020.
As of 2019, the most recent year with an official poverty rate released by the U.S. Census Bureau, 13.4% of the U.S. population lived below the poverty line. By some estimates, that share might have dropped as low as 7.7% in 2020, the lowest level since 1967, when record keeping began.
Of course, the poverty rate varies considerably across the country, and even before the COVID-19 unemployment crisis, there were parts of the country where poverty was already widespread — where the share of residents living in poverty was more than double the national average.
Using five-year estimates from the Census’ 2019 American Community Survey, 24/7 Wall St. identified the ZIP code with the highest poverty rate in every state.
The poverty threshold is based on income, and in most of the country, an individual with an annual income of less than $12,880, or a family of four earning less than $26,500, is considered to be living in poverty. Not surprisingly, in every ZIP code on this list with available data, the median household income is lower than it is across the state as a whole. Here is a look at the poorest town in every state.
To determine the ZIP code with the highest poverty rate in every state, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed five-year estimates of the percentage of people for whom poverty status had been determined as living below the poverty line from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2019 American Community Survey.
We used ZIP Code Tabulation Areas — a census geography type which defines areal representations of United States Postal Service ZIP codes (USPS ZIP codes do not define geographic boundaries but instead are a network of mail delivery routes in a service area). We refer to Census ZCTAs as ZIP codes.
Of the 33,120 ZIP codes the Census Bureau publishes data for, 32,936 had boundaries that fell within one of the 50 states, while the rest were in the District of Columbia or Puerto Rico.
ZIP codes were excluded if poverty rates were not available in the 2019 ACS, if the population for which the poverty status had been determined was less than 1,000, if 25% or more of a ZIP code’s population were enrolled in undergraduate, professional, or graduate school during the same period, or if the sampling error associated with a ZIP code’s data was deemed too high.
The sampling error was defined as too high if the coefficient of variation — a statistical assessment of how reliable an estimate is — for a ZIP code’s poverty rate was above 15% and greater than two standard deviations above the mean CV for all ZIP codes’ poverty rates. We similarly excluded ZIP codes that had a sampling error too high for their population for which poverty status had been determined, using the same definition.
The remaining 20,906 places were ranked within their state based on their poverty rates. To break ties, we used median household income..
Additional information on the number of people living below the poverty line, median household income, and the share of households receiving SNAP benefits are also five-year estimates from the 2019 ACS.