(June 2002) New data from the U.S. Census Bureau show that 12.4 percent of the U.S. population — about 34 million people — were below the poverty level in 1999.* The data, which include the first information available from the 2000 Census long form, show wide disparities in poverty levels among states and local areas. Among states, poverty was highest in Mississippi (19.9 percent), Louisiana (19.6 percent), New Mexico (18.4 percent), and West Virginia (17.9 percent). New Hampshire (6.5 percent), Connecticut (7.9 percent), and Minnesota (7.9 percent) had the lowest rates. In 1999, the poverty rate in the District of Columbia (20.2 percent) was higher than the rate in any of the 50 states.
At the county level, poverty rates were highest in rural areas in the Midwest and South, particularly in Central Appalachia, the Northern Plains, the Lower Mississippi Valley, and in the Rio Grande Valley in southern Texas and New Mexico. Four out of the five counties with the highest poverty rates in 1999 were located in South Dakota — all in areas with large numbers of American Indians. Buffalo County topped the list (56.9 percent), followed by Shannon County (52.3 percent), Ziebach County (49.9 percent), and Todd County (48.3 percent). Starr County, Texas, with 50.9 percent of the population below the poverty line, was the only county outside of South Dakota in the top five. Of the 25 counties with the highest poverty rates, four were located in Kentucky and another four were in Mississippi.
Loving County, Texas, with a 2000 population of only 67 people, had the lowest poverty rate in 1999 (0.0 percent). Most of the counties with exceptionally low poverty rates are predominantly white suburbs of large metropolitan areas. These include fast-growing areas such as Douglas County outside of Denver; Fayette County outside of Atlanta; and Loudoun County, Va., in the Washington, D.C. area (each with poverty rates under 3 percent). Many others are outer suburbs of Chicago, Indianapolis, Minneapolis, Milwaukee, and other Midwestern cities.
Large cities, those with populations over 100,000, that had the highest poverty rates in 1999 included Brownsville and Laredo, Texas — both with substantial Hispanic populations — and aging cities in the Northeast, including Hartford, Conn.; Providence, R.I.; and Syracuse and Buffalo, N.Y. Several California cities also made the list, including San Bernardino, East Los Angeles, Fresno, and El Monte.
Cities with relatively low poverty rates in 1999 tended to be midsized cities in the Midwest and West. Most of these cities are themselves suburbs of larger metropolitan areas, including Naperville, Ill. (outside of Chicago), Livonia, Mich. (near Detroit), and Gilbert, Ariz. (outside Phoenix).
*Poverty is based on income in the previous year. Poverty thresholds are defined by the U.S. Office of Management and Budget and vary by family size and composition. In 2000, the poverty threshold for a family of two adults and two children was $17,463. Poverty status is not determined for people in military barracks or institutional quarters, or for unrelated individuals under age 15. The poverty thresholds are the same for all parts of the country — that is, they are not adjusted for regional, state, or local variations in the cost of living. The poverty level is based on money income and does not include noncash benefits such as food stamps.