• Email

The Poorest Counties in America

Counties With the Highest Poverty Rates in the U.S.

The number of Americans living in poverty has been on the rise since the Great Recession, as many households have seen their incomes drop and their debts mount in the past few years.

In total, more than 15% of the population lived in poverty in 2010, the highest percentage since 1993, according to the most recent data from the Census Bureau. To put that in perspective, that means more than 46 million people fell below the poverty line, defined as $22,314 for a family of four. If you factor in the income spent on expenses like medical costs, child care and mortgage payments, the number of Americans whose remaining income falls below the poverty line is closer to 50 million, or roughly 16% of the population.

As severe as this sounds, some regions in the U.S. are much worse off. In November, the census released a breakdown of the poverty rate in every county in the U.S. in 2010, which showed dozens of counties where more than a third of the population lives in poverty and a handful whose overall poverty rates were closer to 50%.

MainStreet combed through the data to find the 10 counties with the highest overall poverty rates in the country. Here they are, ranked from best to worst along with census data on the childhood poverty rate and the median household income in each.

Photo Credit: valeblos

10th Poorest County: Allendale County, S.C.

The overall poverty rate in Allendale County declined by just shy of a percentage point between 2009 and 2010, pushing this county down several spots into the bottom 10.

Poverty Rate: 40.4%

Poverty Rate of Kids Under 18: 47.1%

Median Household Income: $24,615

Photo Credit: Shoshanah

9th Poorest County: Corson County, S.D.

South Dakota is home to several of the poorest counties on this list even though the state’s overall poverty rate is just 13.2%, slightly less than the national average. Part of the reason for this discrepancy is that several of the poorest counties, including Corson, are primarily made up of Native Americans, a disenfranchised group with the highest poverty rate of any ethnicity in the country.

Poverty Rate: 40.9%

Poverty Rate of Kids Under 18: 54.1%

Median Household Income: $27,233

Photo Credit: Pink Sherbet Photography

8th Poorest County: Holmes County, Miss.


Mississippi is the other state to dominate the list, with four counties ranking among the poorest. Holmes County, however, has experienced a marked improvement with the poverty rate dropping by more than seven percentage points between 2009 and 2010. If this continues, it may not even rank among the 10 worst in 2011.

Poverty Rate: 41.2%

Poverty Rate of Kids Under 18: 53.1%

Median Household Income: $22,536

Photo Credit: NatalieMaynor

7th Poorest County: Sioux County, N.D.


On the whole, North Dakota has actually fared better than most states in recent years and has by far the lowest unemployment rate in the country, but Sioux County is a bit of an exception. Like some of the counties on this list from South Dakota, Sioux County is primarily made up of Native Americans.

Poverty Rate: 41.3%

Poverty Rate of Kids Under 18: 51.8%

Median Household Income: $28,338

Photo Credit: afiler

5th Poorest County (Tie): Washington County, Miss.

Washington County suffered the most striking increase in poverty of any county on the list. In 2009, 32% of residents lived below the poverty line and it barely cracked the list of the 100 counties with the highest poverty rates. One year later, the poverty rate had increased by 10 percentage points and it ranked among the five worst counties for poverty rates.

Poverty Rate: 42.2%

Poverty Rate of Kids Under 18: 57.1%

Median Household Income: $25,559

Photo Credit: NatalieMaynor

5th Poorest County (Tie): Humphreys County, Miss.

Humphreys had the highest child poverty rate in 2010 of any of the counties on this list and the second lowest median household income, two distinctions we’re sure this Mississippi county would be happy not to have.

Poverty Rate: 42.2%

Poverty Rate of Kids Under 18: 61.1%

Median Household Income: $24,205

Photo Credit: Natalie Maynor

4th Poorest County: Issaquena County, Miss.

Issaquena County jumped up one spot on the list even though its poverty rate improved by two percentage points compared to last year.

Poverty Rate: 43.3%

Poverty Rate of Kids Under 18: 60.1%

Median Household Income: $27,124

Photo Credit:  Natalie Maynor

3rd Poorest County: Shannon County, S.D.

Salaries increased in this county by about $2,000 between 2009 and 2010 and the poverty rate dropped by more than three percentage points, but Shannon County remained the third poorest county for the second year in a row.

Poverty Rate: 47.3%

Poverty Rate of Kids Under 18: 48.9%

Median Household Income: $27,307

Photo Credit:  afiler

2nd Poorest County: Todd County, S.D.

Todd County shot up from being the sixth poorest county in 2009 to the second poorest in 2010 thanks to a four-percentage-point increase in the proportion of residents that live below the poverty line.

Poverty Rate: 49.1%

Poverty Rate of Kids Under 18: 58.1%

Median Household Income: $26,393

Photo Credit: ionntag

The Poorest County: Ziebach County, S.D.

Ziebach County has had the unfortunate distinction of being the county with the highest poverty rate since 2004 in part because like Sioux County, it is made up primarily of Native Americans with limited job opportunities. But if there’s any consolation, it’s that the poverty rate declined significantly from 62% in 2009 to just more than 50% in 2010. Still, it’s hard to celebrate when half the county is living below the poverty line.

Poverty Rate: 50.1%

Poverty Rate of Kids Under 18: 52.2%

Median Household Income: $25,669

Photo Credit: Keith011764

Join us on Facebook

Join the MainStreet team and other readers on our lively Facebook page! Discuss our newest stories and get links to breaking content, automatically.

Click here to add us.

Photo Credit: lawtonchiles

Read More:   Poverty, cost of living
blog comments powered by Disqus

Brokerage Partners