Mississippi still poorest state

Thursday, September 20th, 2012 

Cities at top, bottom of income

Among the 25 biggest cities, the five that rank at the top and bottom based on annual household income in 2011.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau  
Graphic by Madeline Beard, Investigative Reporting Workshop

Mississippi remained the most impoverished state in 2011 while New Hampshire had the least poverty, according to Census data released Thursday.

More than 48 million people reported living below the poverty level in 2011, 2.3 million more than in 2010.  Both the rate and number of people in poverty increased in 17 states between 2010 and 2011, reflecting a continuing economic struggle for many people since the recession. Vermont was the only state where both declined.

Poverty was defined in 2011 as income under $23,201 for a family of four or $11,484 for an individual.

Highlights of the new report:


Poverty rates remained above the national average of 15.9 percent in 22 states and the District of Columbia.

  • Among metropolitan areas, the Washington, D.C., metro area, which includes portions of Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia, had the lowest poverty rate: 8.3 percent.
  • The McAllen, Texas, area, on the Mexican border, had a staggering poverty rate of nearly 38 percent in 2011.
  • Arizona had the largest increase of people in its percentage of people living in poverty but the rate remained statistically flat.


  • Nevada’s 6 percent decrease was the largest in the country, followed closely by Hawaii.
  • Mississippi’s household income of $36,919 is 27 percent lower than the national median. Incomes were below the median in 27 states.
  • Adjusted for inflation, median household incomes in San Jose, Calif., are down 7 percent from pre-recession levels in 2007. Incomes in Detroit are down 18 percent from 2007.  (See our chart of household incomes for the top five cities and bottom five cities among the 25 largest cities in the country.)

Maryland held on to the top spot in annual household median income while Mississippi had the lowest. Incomes fell slightly nationwide in 2011 to $50,502 from $51,144 in 2010. Median household income in Maryland was about $70,000 — nearly 40 percent higher than the national median. Maryland is joined by 18 states and the District of Columbia in exceeding the national median.

But when analyzed by state, annual incomes decreased in only 18 states, the fewest since 2009 when 34 states saw decreases from the previous year, and the year that marked the “official” end to the recession. Vermont was the only state to see an increase in annual income in 2011.

Thursday’s data comes from the American Community Survey (ACS), which provides a more detailed  look at Americans’ lives on the local level. The survey samples 3.5 million addresses each year. The ACS one-year estimates released include geographic areas with populations greater than 65,000. 

Last week, we reported on the national picture from the Census Bureau, which showed that despite declining household incomes and increasing income inequality, the number of Americans living in poverty remained steady in 2011.

The number of people in poverty nationally, 46.2 million, is not statistically significant from those in poverty in 2010, although the number in poverty had increased in the previous four years.

But the income and poverty statistics released today indicate that when parts of the country are looked at more closely by county, city and state, the differences are stark.

What Went Wrong

Donald Barlett and James Steele are revisiting America: What Went Wrong, their landmark 1991 newspaper series, in a new project with the Investigative Reporting Workshop. Over the next year, the project team will examine how four decades of public policy has shaped America's ongoing economic crisis.


Back Story

The authors talk about What Went Wrong

Donald Barlett and James Steele talk about the project, and why they decided to revisit a book they wrote two decades ago, in a series of video clips produced by the Workshop.

Nation's Story

Who pays the taxes?

Who pays the taxes?

We feature charts, maps, photos and other visualizations that reflect the state of the economy as part of our What Went Wrong project. This column chart shows the growing disparity between what individuals and corporations pay in taxes. In the 1950s, the difference was 22 percent. Recent figures show the difference is 62 percent.

Rags to rags: Economic mobility hard to come by

New Pew Center on States report confirms that moving up the American economic ladder is difficult, even though most people have more income than their parents.

Homelessness takes it toll on Florida's youngest

Florida, as a center of the housing boom, still struggles to recover from the Great Recession. Financial stresses and widespread foreclosures have placed families in precarious situations, resulting in a spike in child homelessness. Susannah Nesmith reports in the Broward Bulldog.

Older workers face challenges in Silicon Valley

An advanced degree and experience in the tech sector should be a ticket to a job in today's economy. But older workers in the heart of the new economy, Silicon Valley, are finding their resume is not the issue. Aaron Glantz reports in The Bay Citizen.

 Subscribe to the RSS Feed

Read an Excerpt

The Betrayal of the American Dream on Google Books

The Betrayal of the American Dream on Google Books

Check out the first chapter of Barlett and Steele's 2012 book here.