The U.S. Census Bureau’s measure of poverty is tremendously complex. It is based on both family size and earnings. It includes unemployment benefits, Social Security, pensions and dividends. It does not include capital gains and tax credits. It cannot be measured for people who live in military housing or college dormitories. For a single person, the number is below $12,880 a year. For a family of four, the number rises to $26,500.
To determine the metro with the highest poverty rates in the nation, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed one-year estimates of the percentage of people who live below the poverty line in each metropolitan area from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2019 American Community Survey (ACS). In comparison to the 2019 poverty rates, 24/7 Wall St. examined 50 metros with poverty rates of at least 17.9% and as high as 27.3%.
People struggling with poverty can be found all over the country, but the places where poverty is especially common are concentrated in three regions: the West, the Midwest and notably the South, which is home to 30 of the 50 metropolitan areas we examined. While poverty rates do not correspond perfectly with median incomes, counties with higher poverty rates tend to have lower incomes. They also tend to have higher shares of residents receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, formerly known as food stamps.
In determining the metro with the highest poverty rate in the nation, 24/7 Wall St. used the 384 metropolitan statistical areas as delineated by the United States Office of Management and Budget and used by the Census Bureau as our definition of metros.
Metropolitan areas were excluded if 25% or more of a Zip code’s population were enrolled in undergraduate, professional or graduate school during the same period, or if the sampling error associated with a metro’s data was deemed too high.
The sampling error was defined as too high if the coefficient of variation (a statistical assessment of how reliable an estimate is) for a metro’s poverty rate was above 15% and greater than two standard deviations above the mean coefficient of variation for all metros’ poverty rates. We similarly excluded metros that had a sampling error too high, using the same definition.
The remaining 368 metros were ranked based on their poverty rates. Additional information on the number of people living below the poverty line, median household income and the share of households receiving SNAP benefits are also one-year estimates from the 2019 ACS.
The metro where the most people live below the poverty line is McAllen-Edinburg-Mission, Texas. Here are the details:
- Poverty rate: 27.3%
- Number of people living below poverty line: 234,015 (31st highest)
- Households receiving SNAP benefits: 27.1% (highest)
- Median household income: $41,800 (sixth lowest)
Click here to see all the metros with the most people living below the poverty line.
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