Poverty is, unfortunately, a reality across many states in America and the poverty rates can vary wildly between each state. If you are thinking of relocating to another state, poverty rates, unemployment rates and median incomes are all important financial factors to take into account.
We have ranked the 15 poorest states in America, using the latest data from Census reports. In the U.S, the average poverty rate across the states is 10.5%. However, these 15 states all have higher poverty rates than this average, with some close to double the average rate.
The Poorest States in America
Mississippi’s Poverty Rate: 19.6%
Known as the birthplace of Blues music and the namesake of the Mississippi River, Mississippi has been ranked as the poorest state in America. With a total poverty rate of 19.6%, Mississippi’s rate is far above the national average rate of 10.5%. While this overall rate has fallen from highs of 24.2% in 2012, it’s still the highest rate in the country. Mississippi’s child poverty rate is also the highest in the U.S. at 27.8% according to America’s Health Rankings.
Louisiana’s Poverty Rate: 19%
Neighboring western Mississippi is the second-poorest state in the U.S, Louisiana. With a population of over 4.6 million, the proportion of those living in poverty in Louisiana is 19%. While this rate has decreased slightly in the past nine years, this drop has been inconsistent. The poverty rate rose slightly between 2018 and 2019 from 18.6% to 19% but it’s still lower than the 2011 rate of 20.4%.
3. New Mexico
New Mexico’s Poverty Rate: 18.2%
New Mexico is another state with a higher than average poverty rate of 18.2%. Poverty rates in New Mexico have consistently dropped since 2013, falling from a high of 21.9% poverty rate to just 18.2% in 2019. However, New Mexico is listed as the second-highest state for child poverty rates, with an estimated 26.3% of children living in poverty. The state also has a population of just over 2 million, a number that has grown by 1.8% in the last decade.
Kentucky’s Poverty Rate: 16.3%
Also known as the Bluegrass State, Kentucky is famous for its horse racing, food and bourbon. Kentucky has a population of 4,467,673 people, a figure that has grown by 3% over the past decade. While it’s the fourth-poorest state in the country, Kentucky’s poverty rate has also fallen significantly in recent years. The rate has fallen from 19.4% in 2011 to 16.3% in 2019.
Arkansas’ Poverty Rate: 16.2%
The fifth-poorest state in the U.S. is Arkansas, a Midwestern state with a population of just over 3 million residents and counting. This is another state which has seen a significant drop poverty rate, going from 19.8% in 2012 to 16.2% in 2019. It is still, however, much higher than the national average. Arkansas also has a child poverty rate of almost a quarter (24.7%).
6. West Virginia
West Virginia’s Poverty Rate: 16%
Named the Mountain State for its natural beauty, West Virginia has a population of just 1,792,147, which has fallen by 3.3% in the past 10 years. Despite its relatively small and falling population, the state has a high poverty rate of 16%. While this is higher than the national average, it’s also the lowest rate of poverty West Virginia has seen in almost 20 years.
Alabama’s Poverty Rate: 15.5%
Alabama is a southern state known for its music, hot weather and Civil Rights history. Alabama’s current estimated poverty rate of 15.5% is the lowest recorded since 2000 but still sits above the national average. The state has a total population of 4.9 million people, a rate that has grown by 2.6% in the last 10 years. Alabama also has a high rate of children in poverty at 23.8%, which puts the state as 45th in the country in this category.
Oklahoma’s Poverty Rate: 15.2%
Oklahoma sits in the south-central region, surrounded by four mountain ranges including the Ouachitas, Arbuckles, Wichitas and the Kiamichis. With almost 4 million residents, Oklahoma’s population has grown by 5.5% in the last decade. The state has a high poverty rate of 15.2%, although this has steadily fallen over the past 10 years. The state also has high levels of child poverty, at 21.7% of the population.
Tennessee’s Poverty Rate: 13.9%
Tennessee is famous for its country music, whiskey and mountainous landscapes. Despite its small size, Tennessee has a population of 6.8 million people, which has grown by 7.6% since 2010. The poverty rate in Tennessee has drastically fallen from 18.3% in 2014 to 13.9% in 2019. The current poverty rate is one of the state’s lowest since 2000, when the rate was just 13.5%.
10. South Carolina
South Carolina’s Poverty Rate: 13.8%
Known as the Palmetto State, South Carolina is a southeastern state overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. South Carolina has a booming population of 5,148,714 that has increased by 11.3% since 2010. This state has also seen large drops in its poverty rate, from 18.9% in 2011 to just 13.8% in 2019.
11. North Carolina
North Carolina’s Poverty Rate: 13.6%
Faring slightly better than its neighbor to the south is North Carolina, a state with a poverty rate of 13.6% as of 2019. Like South Carolina, this state has also seen a large drop in poverty rates since 2012, when the rate was 18%. Despite having slightly lower poverty rates than South Carolina, North Carolina has over double the population, totaling 10.4 million residents overall, meaning its poor population is significantly larger.
Texas’ Poverty Rate: 13.6%
As the second-largest state by area and one of the biggest states by population, Texas has almost 29 million people living there. Within the growing population, the current poverty rate is estimated to be 13.6%, which makes it the 12th-poorest state in America. Despite this, the state’s overall poverty levels have consistently improved over the last 10 years, plummeting from a high of 18.5% in 2011.
Arizona’s Poverty Rate: 13.5%
Arizona is a southwestern state and the sixth-largest state by area. It is known for its hot weather, deserts and majestic natural spots such as the Grand Canyon. A total of 7,278,717 people currently live in Arizona, a population that has grown by approximately 13.9% over the last decade. Arizona’s current poverty rate is estimated to be 13.5%, a significant decrease from 19% in 2011.
Georgia’s Poverty Rate: 13.3%
The southeastern state of Georgia is known for its peaches, and as the birthplace of the Civil Rights Movement and Martin Luther King Jr. Overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, Georgia’s population of 10.6 million people makes it one of the most populated states on this list. Of this number, there is a poverty rate of 13.3% which has consistently decreased from its latest high of 19.1% in 2011.
Ohio’s Poverty Rate: 13.1%
The last state on this list of the poorest states in America is Ohio, a state on the northeastern corner of the Midwest. Nicknamed the Buckeye state by residents, Ohio has a high population of 11,689,100 people according to the 2019 census. Despite having a high population, the poverty rate is 13.1%, which ranks it as 36th in the country for its poverty levels. Historically, the state has had lower poverty rates than many others on this list, with a high of just 16.4% in 2011.
While all of these states have higher rates of poverty than the average across the United States, they have all shown an improvement in recent years. Not all of the states have had consistent dips in poverty levels, but each one has reduced its poverty rate since the peak of the Great Recession in 2012. These are encouraging trends, but it’s still helpful to be aware of the role poverty plays in any state where you might live.
The poorest state on this list is Mississippi, which has seen a significant drop in poverty levels despite remaining at a high rate. On the other end of the scale, we found that the top states with the lowest poverty rates were New Hampshire (7.3%), Utah (8.9%) and Minnesota (9%).
To determine the poorest states in America, we looked closely at the latest U.S. Census data to rank each state by its poverty rate. We also looked at Statista’s historical poverty rates from the year 2000 onward to see whether the poverty rates were improving. All states on our list have a poverty rate above the U.S. average.