Rural, urban poverty increase nationwide: How does your neck of the woods stack up?

Recently, the Carsey School of Public Policy at the University of New Hampshire (UNH) published a study showing that rural poverty has been steadily increasing since the 1990s and urban poverty increased sharply as a result of the 2008 recession.

The increase in rural poverty in America was attributed to the steady loss of high paying manufacturing jobs and the brain drain that resulted when individuals in these jobs moved to urban centers.


At the same time, the Census bureau published its annual Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates (SAIPE) for every state, county, and school district in the U.S. for 2016.  This gives Americans the opportunity to see how their locality measures up to the U.S. overall.  The measures provided include poverty estimates for a variety of age groupings and median incomes.

Above is a map of every county in the lower 48 states with darker colored counties having a higher poverty estimate.

The U.S. Census Bureau has an interactive tool to focus on an individual’s county and/or state of interest.  Census Bureau data shows some rural areas with low poverty rates such as eastern North Dakota and urban areas with high poverty estimates such as Philadelphia.

We can also focus on annual trends in poverty and or median income from 1997 to 2016.  The graph below shows the trends for the U.S., the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the urban county of Philadelphia and the rural county of Cambria, which includes Johnstown, Pa.

There is a break in the trend line from 2004 because the bureau modified is estimation method.

In the graph above, Philadelphia’s poverty rate (gold line) is consistently above the rates for the U.S., the state of Pennsylvania and Cambria County.  There was a spike in the rate for Philadelphia that occurred after the great recession in 2011 with a leveling off afterward.

The overall rate for Pennsylvania (dark blue line) has been consistently below the national rate (light blue line).  The rate for rural Cambria County (light green line) more or less reflects the trend in the U.S. rate with a small increase in 2016.  It should be noted that counties with smaller populations have more uncertainty in the estimates.

In this season of giving it is appropriate to think of those less fortunate than ourselves.  These statistics provide a glimpse of who and how many are less fortunate.  The trend found in the UNH study may not appear for every rural or urban county.  The interactive data tool allows you to pinpoint what the numbers and trends are in your area.


[The Hill] [Photo courtesy Eyevine via The Economist]