The share of Americans living below the poverty line rose in 2022, reversing several years of historic progress. Much of the increase in real poverty was due to the expiration of safety net programs created or expanded during the pandemic, such as unemployment and nutrition benefits, rental assistance, and an expanded child tax credit.
According to new data from the Census Bureau’s 2022 American Community Survey, the official U.S. poverty rate is 12.6%. In some major cities, however, the share of the population living below the poverty line is far higher. (Here are 25 ways the federal poverty rate doesn’t tell the whole story.)
To determine the American cities with the highest poverty rates, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed one-year poverty status data from the recent ACS. Nearly 380 metropolitan statistical areas were ranked based on the percentage of the population for whom the poverty status was determined as falling below the poverty line.
While the Sunbelt is the site of some of the fastest economic growth in the United States, a bulk of the country’s poorest cities are in the South. Of the 50 metro areas with the highest poverty rates, 33 are in the South, while 11 are in the West, and five in the Midwest. Binghamton, New York, stands out as the one metropolitan area in the Northeast with a poverty rate above 18.0%.
Many of the poorest cities nationwide struggle with chronic unemployment. Of the 50 cities with the highest poverty rates, 33 had average annual unemployment rates higher than 3.6% — the national figure in 2022. In the border city El Centro, California, where 22.6% of residents live in poverty, seasonal fluctuations in demand for agricultural workers and a downturn in Mexican tourism activity have resulted in a nation-leading unemployment rate of 14.7%. (See also: people are leaving these 50 American cities in droves.)
Another factor keeping earnings below the poverty line in America’s poorest cities may be low educational attainment. While income and financial security tend to rise with college attainment, the percentage of adults with at least a bachelor’s degree is lower than the 35.7% national figure in 44 of the 50 cities with the highest poverty rates. In the Central Valley metro of Hanford-Corcoran, California, where 18.8% of the population lives in poverty, just 15.9% of adults have a bachelor’s degree, the fourth lowest college attainment rate of any metro nationwide.
Click here to see the American cities with the highest poverty rates.
Click here to read our detailed methodology.
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