Of the 353 most persistently poor counties in the United States — defined by Washington as having had a poverty rate above 20 percent in each of the past three decades — 85 percent are rural. They are clustered in distinct regions: Indian reservations in the West; Hispanic communities in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas; a band across the Deep South and along the Mississippi Delta with a majority black population; and Appalachia, largely white, which has supplied some of America’s iconic imagery of rural poverty since the Depression-era photos of Walker Evans.USDA provides a graph on regional differences:
But although most poor counties are rural, most poor people are not. From 2012 Census data on people in poverty:
Inside metropolitan statistical areas.....38.0 million
..Inside principal cities.........................19.9 million
..Outside principal cities.......................18.0 million
Outside metropolitan statistical areas....8.5 million
The Census has also released a report on people who live near the poverty line. According to the report:
- About 14.7 million people, or 4.7 percent of the population, were near-poor in 2012.
- The "near-poverty" rate is down from 6.3 percent in 1966; this rate has remained more stable than the poverty rate itself over the past four decades.
- The likelihood of being near-poor decreases as level of educational attainment rises.
- The near-poor were more likely than those below poverty to qualify for the Earned Income Tax Credit and less likely to be covered by public health insurance.
- Nearly one-third of the near-poor in 2012 received benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, while 85 percent lived with a family member receiving a free or reduced lunch in school.
- Based on a 2010-2012 three-year average, 18 states had a near-poverty rate lower than the national average and 12 states higher.
The New York Times reports that changing prices have had an effect. It is easier for poor people to buy televisions than in the past, but harder to go to college.
Since the 1980s, for instance, the real price of a midrange color television has plummeted about tenfold, and televisions today are crisper, bigger, lighter and often Internet-connected. Similarly, the effective price of clothing, bicycles, small appliances, processed foods — virtually anything produced in a factory — has followed a downward trajectory. The result is that Americans can buy much more stuff at bargain prices.
Many crucial services, though, remain out of reach for poor families. The costs of a college education and health care have soared.