Special Report

The Worst States for Black Americans

Source: Sean Pavone / iStock via Getty Images

25. Virginia
> Poverty rate: 17.6% Black, 8.5% white
> Homeownership rate: 47.8% Black, 72.0% white
> Unemployment rate: 7.3% Black, 3.9% white
> Median household income: $51,654 Black, $79,578 white

Virginia ranks in the middle of all states in several key socioeconomic factors measuring racial disparities. The typical Black household in the state earns $51,654 a year, about $28,000 less than the median income of $79,578 among white households. At 17.6%, the Black poverty rate in Virginia is also more than double the 8.5% white poverty rate.

Measures of public health reveal other racial disparities in Virginia. For example, the infant mortality rate among the state’s Black population stands at 10.6 for every 1,000 live births, compared to 4.7 per 1,000 among white Virginia residents – a larger gap than in most other states.

Source: Sean Pavone / iStock via Getty Images

24. Alabama
> Poverty rate: 27.0% Black, 12.3% white
> Homeownership rate: 50.8% Black, 76.1% white
> Unemployment rate: 9.5% Black, 4.5% white
> Median household income: $33,928 Black, $57,551 white

Home to Rosa Parks and the Montgomery bus boycott, as well as the marches from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama was ground zero for much of the civil rights movement in the 20th century. Today, it ranks close to the middle of all states in key measures of racial disparities – and much of that inequality is attributable in part to continued segregation, a legacy of racist laws from the previous century. Currently, over half of all Black Alabama residents live in majority Black communities, making it one of the most segregated states in the country.

While many Alabama residents struggle with issues of poverty and unemployment, the burden is shouldered disproportionately by Black communities. The Black poverty rate of 27.0% in the state is more than double the 12.3% white poverty rate. Black workers are also more than twice as likely to be unemployed as white workers.

Source: Sean Pavone / iStock via Getty Images

23. Missouri
> Poverty rate: 24.7% Black, 11.7% white
> Homeownership rate: 37.6% Black, 71.6% white
> Unemployment rate: 9.2% Black, 3.9% white
> Median household income: $37,179 Black, $58,921 white

Missouri has the lowest level of racial inequality in the Midwest. Still, it ranks among the top 25 states with the worst inequality nationwide. Nearly one in every four Black Missourians live below the poverty line, compared to about one in every nine white residents. Black state workers are also more than twice as likely as white workers to be unemployed.

As is the case in much of the United States, racial disparities in Missouri are attributable in part to segregation. Due to redlining and other discriminatory practices, particularly in major urban areas like Kansas City and St. Louis, Missouri is one of the most segregated states in the country. Over half of the state’s 696,000 Black residents live in majority Black neighborhoods. Many of these communities were underserved, had – and continue to have – limited economic opportunities, and have schools that are overcrowded and underfunded.

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22. Rhode Island
> Poverty rate: 22.0% Black, 10.0% white
> Homeownership rate: 33.7% Black, 65.5% white
> Unemployment rate: 9.7% Black, 4.7% white
> Median household income: $45,727 Black, $71,096 white

Rhode Island ranks better than most Northeastern states for racial inequality but still ranks in the top 25 of states for racial inequality nationwide. Some of the worst disparities are in social measures – particularly with regard to law enforcement and the justice system. Black Rhode Islanders are nearly 10 times more likely than white residents to be incarcerated in a state of federal correctional facility. Black residents make up about 30% of the state’s prison population and only 5.7% of the overall population.

Other stark disparities in the state are in economic measures. For example, the Black poverty rate of 22.0% in Rhode Island is more than double the 10.0% white poverty rate. Black workers are also more than twice as likely to be unemployed than white workers.

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21. Indiana
> Poverty rate: 26.9% Black, 11.2% white
> Homeownership rate: 37.2% Black, 73.6% white
> Unemployment rate: 10.7% Black, 4.1% white
> Median household income: $34,895 Black, $59,415 white

Indiana’s public school system is highly segregated. A 2017 study found that the average Black student in Indiana attends school where more than two-thirds of students are non-white. Meanwhile, the average white student in Indiana attends school where less than 20% of students are non-white. Segregated schools are inherently unequal, and so are education outcomes in Indiana. Only about 18% of Black adults in the state have a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared to about 27% of white adults.

Disparities in educational outcomes have serious economic implications. Black Indiana residents are more than twice as likely as their white counterparts to live below the poverty line and more than twice as likely to be unemployed. The Midwestern U.S. has some of the worst racial disparities in the country. And though Indiana has worse inequality than most states, it compares favorably to nearly every other state in the Midwest.

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