This article was written by Brian Glassman, Poverty Statistics Branch. It was originally published to the Census blog, Random Samplings, on October 13, 2016.
The official poverty rate for the United States declined in 2015 to 13.5 percent from a rate of 14.8 percent in 2014. However, this decrease in poverty was not uniform across states or Metropolitan Statistical Areas when looking at data from the American Community Survey — another key data source for examining poverty at state and local levels. In fact, poverty rates decreased in 23 states and did not increase in any state in 2015, as shown in Figure 1. However, poverty rates in 27 states and Washington, D.C., were statistically unchanged.
Many factors contribute to a change in a state’s poverty rate. The bar chart below shows several possibly related economic factors that give a broader sense of the economic changes happening within states. From 2014 to 2015, unemployment rates decreased and median household income increased in each of the 23 states where poverty decreased. For the 27 states and Washington, D.C., that had no change in poverty in 2015, unemployment decreased in 14 states and Washington, D.C., and median income increased in 16 states and Washington, D.C.
Estimates of households with income under $10,000 and households receiving food stamp/SNAP benefits are two other conditions potentially related to poverty status. In 2015, there were 12 states where both poverty rates and the percentage of households with food stamp/SNAP benefits decreased. In 11 states, the poverty rates did not decrease but the percentage of households receiving food stamp/SNAP benefits fell.
There were 16 states where poverty rates fell and the percentage of households with income less than $10,000 also fell. However, in three states and Washington, D.C., the percentage of households with income less than $10,000 fell without a drop in the poverty rate. To see changes from 2014 to 2015 in poverty rates, unemployment rates, median income, food stamp/SNAP participation and percentage of households with income below $10,000 for each state, visit <https://www.census.gov/data/tables/2016/demo/income-poverty/glassman-acs.html>.
The chart below shows that changes were not uniform across metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs), even for those MSAs in a state that experienced a decline in poverty. Between 2014 and 2015, out of a total of 380 MSAs, poverty rates decreased in 63 and increased in 14. The Washington, D.C., MSA is not included in this analysis. The chart also separates MSAs into two categories: (1) those in the 23 states that experienced a decrease in poverty rates from 2014 to 2015 and (2) those in the 27 states that experienced no change in poverty rates. If an MSA crosses state borders, it is assigned to the state where the majority of its population resides.
The key thing to note from the chart is that a decline in the state poverty rate may not be shared by all MSAs in the state. Poverty rates increased in some MSAs located in states in which poverty rates decreased (this includes Asheville, N.C.; Redding, Calif.; Hinesville, Ga.; Sebring, Fla.; Corpus Christi, Texas; Killeen-Temple, Texas; and Lubbock, Texas). Similarly, even in states that experienced no significant change in state poverty rates, some MSA poverty rates did change.