Special Report

States Where the Most People Live Below the Poverty Line

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The share of Americans living below the poverty line fell each year from 2012 to 2019 – declining from 15.9% to 12.3% over the eight-year period. Though disruptions relating to the COVID-19 pandemic prevented the release of 2020 estimates, new census data reveals a reversal of the longer-term trend.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2021 American Community Survey, the U.S. poverty rate now stands at 12.8%, half a percentage point higher than the 12.3% rate in 2019. As a result, 2021 marks the first time in a decade the national poverty rate worsened.

In most of the country, the Department of Health and Human Services sets the poverty income level at $12,880 annually for an individual and $26,500 for a family of four, with slightly higher income thresholds in Alaska and Hawaii. Nationwide, nearly 41.4 million people live on incomes below the poverty line – and such serious financial hardship is far more common in some states than others.

24/7 Wall St. reviewed 2021 poverty estimates from the ACS to determine the states where the most people (relatively) live below the poverty line. In each of the 18 states on this list, the poverty rate exceeds the 12.8% national rate.

Among the states on this list, which are mostly located in the South, poverty rates range from 13.1% up to nearly 20%. (Here is a look at America’s poorest big cities.)

Due in part to high poverty rates, residents of the states on this list are more likely to rely on government assistance to afford basic necessities. The share of households receiving SNAP benefits, formerly known as food stamps, exceeds the 12.4% national recipiency rate in all but a handful of these states. (Here is a look at 50 cities with huge populations living on food stamps.)

Click here for the states where the most people live below the poverty line

Click here to see our detailed methodology

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18. Michigan
> Poverty rate: 13.1%
> Number of people living below the poverty line: 1,286,329 (10th highest)
> Median household income: $63,498 (17th lowest)
> Households receiving SNAP benefits: 13.4% (17th highest)

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17. Florida
> Poverty rate: 13.1%
> Number of people living below the poverty line: 2,805,433 (3rd highest)
> Median household income: $63,062 (15th lowest)
> Households receiving SNAP benefits: 14.1% (10th highest)

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16. Ohio
> Poverty rate: 13.4%
> Number of people living below the poverty line: 1,536,524 (5th highest)
> Median household income: $62,262 (13th lowest)
> Households receiving SNAP benefits: 13.0% (18th highest)

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15. North Carolina
> Poverty rate: 13.4%
> Number of people living below the poverty line: 1,378,621 (9th highest)
> Median household income: $61,972 (12th lowest)
> Households receiving SNAP benefits: 13.9% (13th highest)

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14. Tennessee
> Poverty rate: 13.6%
> Number of people living below the poverty line: 927,587 (12th highest)
> Median household income: $59,695 (10th lowest)
> Households receiving SNAP benefits: 11.9% (25th highest)

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13. New York
> Poverty rate: 13.9%
> Number of people living below the poverty line: 2,688,587 (4th highest)
> Median household income: $74,314 (14th highest)
> Households receiving SNAP benefits: 15.0% (5th highest)

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12. Georgia
> Poverty rate: 14.0%
> Number of people living below the poverty line: 1,476,348 (8th highest)
> Median household income: $66,559 (25th highest)
> Households receiving SNAP benefits: 12.4% (21st highest)

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11. Nevada
> Poverty rate: 14.1%
> Number of people living below the poverty line: 437,385 (20th lowest)
> Median household income: $66,274 (23rd lowest)
> Households receiving SNAP benefits: 13.6% (15th highest)

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10. Texas
> Poverty rate: 14.2%
> Number of people living below the poverty line: 4,122,538 (2nd highest)
> Median household income: $66,963 (23rd highest)
> Households receiving SNAP benefits: 12.2% (23rd highest)

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9. South Carolina
> Poverty rate: 14.6%
> Number of people living below the poverty line: 741,652 (20th highest)
> Median household income: $59,318 (9th lowest)
> Households receiving SNAP benefits: 11.1% (21st lowest)

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8. Oklahoma
> Poverty rate: 15.6%
> Number of people living below the poverty line: 606,782 (25th highest)
> Median household income: $55,826 (8th lowest)
> Households receiving SNAP benefits: 13.8% (14th highest)

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7. Alabama
> Poverty rate: 16.1%
> Number of people living below the poverty line: 794,326 (17th highest)
> Median household income: $53,913 (5th lowest)
> Households receiving SNAP benefits: 14.1% (11th highest)

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6. Arkansas
> Poverty rate: 16.3%
> Number of people living below the poverty line: 480,153 (21st lowest)
> Median household income: $52,528 (4th lowest)
> Households receiving SNAP benefits: 10.9% (19th lowest)

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5. Kentucky
> Poverty rate: 16.5%
> Number of people living below the poverty line: 721,878 (21st highest)
> Median household income: $55,573 (7th lowest)
> Households receiving SNAP benefits: 14.2% (8th highest)

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4. West Virginia
> Poverty rate: 16.8%
> Number of people living below the poverty line: 291,930 (15th lowest)
> Median household income: $51,248 (2nd lowest)
> Households receiving SNAP benefits: 18.3% (3rd highest)

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3. New Mexico
> Poverty rate: 18.4%
> Number of people living below the poverty line: 382,798 (19th lowest)
> Median household income: $53,992 (6th lowest)
> Households receiving SNAP benefits: 20.7% (the highest)

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2. Mississippi
> Poverty rate: 19.4%
> Number of people living below the poverty line: 554,152 (25th lowest)
> Median household income: $48,716 (the lowest)
> Households receiving SNAP benefits: 13.5% (16th highest)

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1. Louisiana
> Poverty rate: 19.6%
> Number of people living below the poverty line: 883,236 (14th highest)
> Median household income: $52,087 (3rd lowest)
> Households receiving SNAP benefits: 19.0% (2nd highest)

Methodology

To identify the states where the most people live below the poverty line, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2021 American Community Survey. States are ranked by the share of the population living below the poverty line. Only states with a poverty rate above the 12.8% national rate were considered.

Supplemental data on median household income and the share of households receiving SNAP benefits are also from the ACS.

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