(January 2008) While many people think of poverty in the United States as primarily an urban problem, data released by the Census Bureau this week indicate that most of the counties with high child poverty rates are located in rural America.1  Of the 100 counties with the highest child poverty rates in 2005, 95 are rural counties (see table). All 100 counties have child poverty rates above 40 percent, more than twice the national rate of 18.5 percent in 2005.

Many of the counties with high rates of child poverty are relatively remote and sparsely populated. Among rural counties, the lower the population density, the higher the child poverty rate is likely to be. The child poverty rate for the most remote rural counties collectively (28 percent) is 11 percentage points higher than the rate in the most urban counties. More than half of the 100 counties with the highest child poverty rates have populations of fewer than 20,000 people.

There is also a strong racial overlay. Of the 100 counties with the highest child poverty rates, two-thirds (66) are "majority minority," or less than 50 percent non-Hispanic white. And many others have disproportionately high minority populations. On average, minorities make up 70 percent of the population in these 100 counties.

Nearly three-fourths (74) of these counties are in the South-almost all in the rural South. Mississippi had the greatest number of counties with high child poverty rates: 17. Almost all are black-majority counties in the  Mississippi Delta.

In the Midwest and West, counties with high child poverty tend to have large American Indian populations. Nine of the highest child poverty rates are in South Dakota, for example, which is home to many Indian reservations.

None of the counties with the highest child poverty rates were located in the Northeast.

The 100 counties with the lowest child poverty rates are mostly located in the wealthy suburbs of large metropolitan areas. Rural counties with the lowest child poverty rates tend to be recreational and/or retirement destinations with high levels of natural amenities such as mountains, lakes, or other attractions.


100 U.S. Counties with Highest Child Poverty Rates, 2005

Rank
County
State
Number of Children in Poverty
Child Poverty Rate
Metropolitan Status
1
Ziebach County
South Dakota
636
70.1
Non-Metro
2
Owsley County
Kentucky
630
61.9
Non-Metro
3
East Carroll Parish
Louisiana
1,464
60.0
Non-Metro
4
Holmes County
Mississippi
3,727
59.5
Non-Metro
5
Todd County
South Dakota
2,307
58.7
Non-Metro
6
Martin County
Kentucky
1,750
58.1
Non-Metro
7
Corson County
South Dakota
851
57.8
Non-Metro
8
Alexander County
Illinois
1,269
57.2
Non-Metro
9
Issaquena County
Mississippi
236
56.3
Non-Metro
10
Starr County
Texas
12,264
55.5
Non-Metro
11
Coahoma County
Mississippi
4,937
54.7
Non-Metro
11
McDowell County
West Virginia
2,769
54.7
Non-Metro
13
Humphreys County
Mississippi
1,725
54.5
Non-Metro
14
Hancock County
Tennessee
718
54.4
Non-Metro
15
Sharkey County
Mississippi
939
54.2
Non-Metro
16
McCreary County
Kentucky
2,245
53.6
Non-Metro
17
Bolivar County
Mississippi
5,474
53.1
Non-Metro
18
Cameron County
Texas
66,043
52.3
Metro
19
Willacy County
Texas
3,220
52.1
Non-Metro
20
Tensas Parish
Louisiana
757
51.7
Non-Metro
21
Apache County
Arizona
12,314
51.4
Non-Metro
22
Hidalgo County
Texas
121,174
51.3
Metro
22
Madison Parish
Louisiana
1,759
51.3
Non-Metro
22
Mellette County
South Dakota
336
51.3
Non-Metro
25
Wolfe County
Kentucky
875
51.2
Non-Metro
26
Lee County
Arkansas
1,327
50.9
Non-Metro
26
Saguache County
Colorado
919
50.9
Non-Metro
28
Leflore County
Mississippi
5,114
50.8
Non-Metro
29
Clay County
Kentucky
2,668
50.1
Non-Metro
29
Sioux County
North Dakota
737
50.1
Non-Metro
31
Clay County
Georgia
392
49.9
Non-Metro
32
Red River Parish
Louisiana
1,264
49.8
Non-Metro
33
Zavala County
Texas
1,841
49.5
Non-Metro
34
Brooks County
Texas
1,120
49.3
Non-Metro
34
Sunflower County
Mississippi
4,011
49.3
Non-Metro
36
Dallas County
Alabama
5,908
49.1
Non-Metro
37
Wilcox County
Alabama
1,835
48.8
Non-Metro
38
Concordia Parish
Louisiana
2,285
48.7
Non-Metro
38
Zapata County
Texas
2,115
48.7
Non-Metro
40
Allendale County
South Carolina
1,354
48.6
Non-Metro
41
Lawrence County
Kentucky
1,730
48.2
Non-Metro
42
Phillips County
Arkansas
3,506
47.7
Non-Metro
43
Luna County
New Mexico
3,360
47.4
Non-Metro
44
Bennett County
South Dakota
544
47.2
Non-Metro
45
Robeson County
North Carolina
16,786
47.0
Non-Metro
45
Washington County
Mississippi
8,165
47.0
Non-Metro
47
Chicot County
Arkansas
1,483
46.8
Non-Metro
47
Shannon County
South Dakota
2,564
46.8
Non-Metro
47
Yazoo County
Mississippi
3,424
46.8
Non-Metro
50
Hudspeth County
Texas
472
46.7
Non-Metro
50
Shannon County
Missouri
884
46.7
Non-Metro
52
Jefferson Davis County
Mississippi
1,527
46.6
Non-Metro
52
Quitman County
Mississippi
1,284
46.6
Non-Metro
54
Bell County
Kentucky
3,097
46.5
Non-Metro
54
Breathitt County
Kentucky
1,624
46.5
Non-Metro
56
Tallahatchie County
Mississippi
1,796
46.4
Non-Metro
57
Magoffin County
Kentucky
1,493
46.3
Non-Metro
57
Perry County
Alabama
1,483
46.3
Non-Metro
59
Lee County
Kentucky
714
46.2
Non-Metro
60
Bullock County
Alabama
1,189
46.1
Non-Metro
60
Franklin Parish
Louisiana
2,381
46.1
Non-Metro
60
Jackson County
South Dakota
412
46.1
Non-Metro
63
Knox County
Kentucky
3,610
45.9
Non-Metro
64
Socorro County
New Mexico
1,942
45.4
Non-Metro
65
Catron County
New Mexico
245
45.3
Non-Metro
65
Sumter County
Alabama
1,637
45.3
Non-Metro
67
Pemiscot County
Missouri
2,510
45.2
Non-Metro
68
Charles Mix County
South Dakota
1,191
45.0
Non-Metro
69
Hale County
Alabama
2,029
44.3
Metro
70
Halifax County
North Carolina
6,255
44.2
Non-Metro
70
New Madrid County
Missouri
1,926
44.2
Non-Metro
70
Wade Hampton Census Area
Alaska
1,478
44.2
Non-Metro
73
Sierra County
New Mexico
997
44.1
Non-Metro
74
Desha County
Arkansas
1,660
44.0
Non-Metro
75
Catahoula Parish
Louisiana
1,029
43.8
Non-Metro
75
Crosby County
Texas
850
43.8
Metro
77
Crisp County
Georgia
2,601
43.7
Non-Metro
77
Greene County
Alabama
1,118
43.7
Metro
77
Lee County
South Carolina
2,104
43.7
Non-Metro
77
Pike County
Mississippi
4,563
43.7
Non-Metro
77
Roosevelt County
Montana
1,383
43.7
Non-Metro
82
Noxubee County
Mississippi
1,508
43.6
Non-Metro
83
Buffalo County
South Dakota
340
43.5
Non-Metro
84
Frio County
Texas
1,894
43.3
Non-Metro
84
Wilkinson County
Mississippi
1,043
43.3
Non-Metro
86
Dimmit County
Texas
1,377
43.2
Non-Metro
87
Harlan County
Kentucky
3,139
43.0
Non-Metro
87
McKinley County
New Mexico
10,552
43.0
Non-Metro
89
Edwards County
Texas
224
42.9
Non-Metro
89
Jefferson County
Mississippi
1,039
42.9
Non-Metro
89
Webster County
West Virginia
848
42.9
Non-Metro
92
Menifee County
Kentucky
604
42.6
Non-Metro
93
Sumter County
Georgia
3,694
42.3
Non-Metro
94
Lake County
Tennessee
520
42.2
Non-Metro
95
Leslie County
Kentucky
1,083
42.1
Non-Metro
96
Williamsburg County
South Carolina
3,823
42.0
Non-Metro
97
Early County
Georgia
1,381
41.9
Non-Metro
97
Pulaski County
Illinois
716
41.9
Non-Metro
99
La Salle County
Texas
670
41.7
Non-Metro
99
Woodruff County
Arkansas
800
41.7
Non-Metro

Note: These estimates are subject to both sampling and nonsampling error. Small differences between estimates may not be statistically meaningful.
Source: U.S. Census Bureau, 2005 Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates.


William O'Hare is visiting senior fellow at the Carsey Institute. Mark Mather is deputy director of domestic programs at the Population Reference Bureau.


Reference

  1. The term rural is used here to denote counties outside metropolitan areas, as defined by the U.S. Office of Management and Budget. Metropolitan area definitions are shown on the Census Bureau's website at www.census.gov/population/www/estimates/metrodef.html.