Poverty Highest in Rural America, Rising in Recession
Nearly one in six people living in rural America fell below the poverty line in 2009, according to data released by the U.S. Census Bureau.
And poverty rates in rural counties continue to be higher than in rural and urban communities.
In 2009, the poverty rate in rural America was 17.26%, according to the Yonder’s analysis of Census Bureau data.
The rate in exurban counties was 13.3%; and in urban counties, the rate was 13.9%.
The national poverty rate in 2009 was 14.4%.
Rural, urban and exurban poverty rates were higher in 2009 than before the recession began in late 2007. The 2009 rates for urban, rural and exurban counties were all about one percentage point higher than the rates in 2006.
There were 8.3 million people living below the poverty line in rural counties in 2009, half a million more than in 2006.
Nationally 42.4 million people fell below the poverty line in 2009, 4 million more than before the recession began.
(The Census describes its poverty thresholds here. For example, if a family with a mother, father, two children and a great aunt earned, altogether, less than $26,245 it would qualify as poor.)
The map above shows the distribution of poverty in rural America 2009. (Click on the map to see a larger version.)
Blue counties have poverty rates below the national average of 14.4%. Dark blue counties have poverty rates under 10%.
Brown counties have rates above the national average — and the dark brown counties are high poverty communities, where more than 20% of the population earns less than the poverty threshold.
The pattern will look familiar to those who have seen other maps showing poverty in rural communities. Appalachia, the Ozarks, the Black Belt in the Deep South, the Mississippi Delta, the Border and counties with Native American reservations all show up as high poverty.
Farming communities, the non-Indian portions of the booming Dakotas and resort counties in the Mountain West all have low levels of poverty. Look below for the fifty rural counties with the highest and lowest levels of poverty.
In most parts of rural America, poverty rates rose between 2006 (before the recession began) and 2009.
The map above shows in blue those 688 rural counties that had dropping poverty rates in those years. About one-third of rural counties had declining poverty rates during these recession years. Most of those were west of the Mississippi. (Click on the map to see a larger version.)
The brown counties (1,338 of them) had rising poverty rates. The dark brown counties had poverty rates that rose by more than five percentage points. These were in familiar pockets of rural poverty — the Delta and Eastern Kentucky.
Every county has its own story, however. Crowley County, Colorado reported a 17 percentage point increase in poverty between 2006 and 2009, rising to 38 percent of the county’s population.
Crowley County, on the eastern slope, is the home to a state prison and has the largest percentage of inmates of any U.S. county. Likely, the rapid increase in poverty in the county has more to do with its overwhelming inmate population than any rapid decline in the local economy.
The blue areas on this map roughly correspond to the low unemployment areas we’ve tracked every month. (Here is the map from September.) Farm areas, oil and gas regions and vacation counties all appeared to have declining poverty rates.
Here are the fifty rural counties with the lowest poverty rates in 2009.
And here are the fifty rural counties with the highest poverty rates.