Trends in Poverty

Almost every state in every region experienced increased poverty since The Great Recession. The only exceptions were North Dakota – where the mining boom has taken the state by storm – and the Southern states of Alabama, Mississippi and Oklahoma, where one might argue poverty couldn’t get much worse. Children continue to experience higher rates of poverty than the general population and seniors over 65 are considerably less likely to be poor. Regionally, the East and Midwest had lower poverty rates that the South and West.

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  • In 2011, 46 million Americans lived below the federal poverty line, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The poverty income line for a family of four in 2011 was $22,350 per year.
  • The number of poor Americans in 2011 was nearly 10 million more than the total population of California (37 million), the most populous state.
  • The total population of the 24 smallest states is roughly equal to the number of poor Americans of all ages in 2011.
  • The national poverty rate for children, 21.9 percent in 2011, is higher than for the general population, 15 percent, while the poverty rate of 8.7 percent for seniors 65 and older is considerably lower.
  • Regional poverty rates are highest in the South (16.3 percent) and the West (15.8 percent); the rates are lowest in the East (12.8 percent) and the Midwest (13.8 percent).
  • Nationally, poverty has been on the rise since 2000, with a slight moderation in 2005 and 2006 before the Great Recession of 2007-08.
  • Over the past decade, from 2001 to 2011, poverty increased nationally by 28.2 percent. Every region also saw poverty increase over the decade. In the Western region, however, poverty fell slightly between 2001 and 2006, but then rose sharply between 2006 and 2011.

 Regional Analysis:


  • The regional poverty rate in 2011 for people of all ages in the Midwest was 13.8 percent. Children’s poverty was higher at 20.4 percent, while poverty among seniors 65 and older in the Midwest was 7.3 percent.
  • State poverty varied in the Midwest from 15.6 percent in Indiana to 9.9 percent in North Dakota.
  • Child poverty rates in the Midwest were the highest in Indiana (24 percent) and the lowest in North Dakota (12.2 percent).
  • All the Midwestern states posted single digit poverty rates for seniors 65 and older, ranging from 8.9 percent in Ohio to just 4 percent in Wisconsin.
  • Poverty rates rose in all the Midwestern states between 2001 and 2011, except for North Dakota, where poverty fell 28.3 percent, the biggest decline of any state. The mining boom is probably responsible for this economic good news.
  • Poverty rose only 8.5 percent in Nebraska, with all the other Midwest states posting increases between 35 percent in Minnesota and 83 percent in Indiana.

  • Regional poverty rates in 2011 were the lowest in the East—12.8 percent—compared to 15 percent nationally.
  • State poverty varied in the East from 16 percent in New York to 7.6 percent in New Hampshire.
  • Child poverty rates in the East were the highest in New York (23.2 percent) and the lowest in New Hampshire (9.4 percent).
  • Poverty doubled in Delaware between 2001 and 2011, while poverty in New York increased just 12.7 percent between 2001 and 2011.
  • In Massachusetts, poverty rates fell 11.7 percent during the years, 2006 to 2011. It was the only state to post a decline in the years that include the recession and post-recession years. Maine, New Hampshire, New York and Vermont had declines in poverty between 2001 and 2006, but could not sustain the declines in the following five years.

  • The regional poverty rate in 2011 for people of all ages in the South was 16.3 percent, the highest of the four regions.
  • The poverty rate for children was also the highest in the South, with one in four children living below the federal poverty line. Among seniors 65 and older in the South in 2011, 10.1 percent were poor.
  • State poverty in 2011 ranged in the South from 21.1 percent in Louisiana to 11.4 percent in Virginia.
  • Children in Louisiana were most likely to be poor; the child poverty rate was 31 percent in 2011. Southern children were least likely to be poor in Virginia. Virginia’s child poverty rate of 14.6 percent was the only child poverty rate below 20 percent in the South.
  • From 2001 to 2011, poverty rates in Alabama, Mississippi and Oklahoma declined. That may be because these states were already among the poorest in the nation before the recession, so the recession may not have hit them as severely.

  • The regional poverty rate in 2011 for people of all ages in the West was 15.8 percent. Without California, which has more than half the West’s population, the overall poverty rate was 14.6 percent.
  • Poverty rates in the West are highest among children and lowest among seniors, as in the rest of the nation. The poverty rate for children in the West is about half again higher than the general population and the poverty rate for seniors is about half that of the general population, whether California is included or excluded from the regional statistics.
  • State poverty in the West ranged from 22.2 percent in New Mexico to 10.7 percent in Wyoming.
  • Child poverty rates in the West ranged from 31.8 percent in New Mexico to 12.7 percent in Wyoming.
  • Poverty rates increased in all Western states from 2001 to 2011. Poverty more than doubled in Nevada, rising by 118.3 percent, the biggest increase in the U.S.
  • Poverty in several Western states did not increase consistent with the national trend. Poverty rates remained about the same in Hawaii and Utah in 2011 compared to 2001, up just 6.1 and 4.8 percent respectively.


U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Surveys, Annual Social and Economic Supplements, http://www.census. gov/hhes/www/poverty/publications/pubs-cps.html

Trends in Poverty