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Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The poorest counties in America

The poorest counties in America

Hard times getting harder
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 15 counties with the highest overall poverty rates in the country. Click ahead to find out what they are, ranked from best to worst, along with census data on the childhood poverty rate and the median household income in each.

 Wilcox County, Ala.
Poverty rate: 39.6%

Poverty rate of children under 18: 52.5%

Median household income: $21,611

About half of the counties on this list are located in the South, where the jobless rate is higher than the national average, at more than 9%. The median annual income of residents of this rural county between Montgomery and Mobile is less than half of the national median income. In addition, the county's high school graduation rate of 71.1% trails Alabama's 80.8% average.
 Maverick County, Texas
Poverty rate: 39.9%

Poverty rate of children under 18: 53.2%

Median household income: $27,710

This county borders Mexico and is home to 54,000 people, one-third of whom are under 18. Only 53.7% of Maverick's residents have graduated from high school, compared with 79.3% for Texas. And only 14% have graduated from college, compared with the state's 25.4%.
Owsley County, Ky.
Poverty rate: 40.1%

Poverty rate of children under 18: 54.4%

Median household income: $22,335

Owsley County is a small area in the eastern part of Kentucky, roughly 90 miles from Lexington. The homeownership rate is high, with 76.3% of residents owning a home, higher than the Kentucky state average of 70.2%. However, the poverty rate for children is above 50%.
East Carroll Parish, La.
Poverty rate: 40.3%

Poverty rate of children under 18: 53.7%

Median household income: $25,442

Located in the northeast part of the state near the Mississippi River, East Carroll Parish has seen a steep population decline from 2000 to 2010, losing 17.6% of its residents. (The state's population grew 1.4% over the same period.) The poverty level for the area has actually dropped by 4 percentage points to 40.3% since 2009, though it is still significantly above the state poverty rate of 18.7%.
Lake County, Tenn.
Poverty rate: 40.4%

Poverty rate of children under 18: 46.8%

Median household income: $27,142

The only county in Tennessee to make the list, Lake County is a small area, with roughly 2,100 citizens living in poverty. Close to the Missouri border, this county has actually seen its poverty rate decline since 2009, when it was 42.5%. Also, the cost of living in Lake County is relatively low, with the median value of owner-occupied housing units at $65,400, about half of the median value of owner-occupied housing units for the state
Allendale County, S.C.
Poverty rate: 40.4%

Poverty rate of children under 18: 47.1%

Median household income: $24,615

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.
Corson County, S.D.
Poverty rate: 40.9%

Poverty rate of children under 18: 54.1%

Median household income: $27,233

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.
Holmes County, Miss.
Poverty rate: 41.2%

Poverty rate of children under 18: 53.1%

Median household income: $22,536

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 7 percentage points between 2009 and 2010. If this continues, the county may not even rank among the 10 worst in 201
Sioux County, N.D.
Poverty rate: 41.3%

Poverty rate of children under 18: 51.8%

Median household income: $28,338

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

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Washington County, Miss.
Poverty rate: 42.2%

Poverty rate of children under 18: 57.1%

Median household income: $25,559

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 rate had increased by 10 percentage points, and it ranked among the six worst counties in terms of poverty rates.
Humphreys County, Miss.
Poverty rate: 42.2%

Poverty rate of children under 18: 61.1%

Median household income: $24,205

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.
Issaquena County, Miss.
Poverty rate: 43.3%

Poverty rate of children under 18: 60.1%

Median household income: $27,124

Issaquena County jumped up one spot on the list even though its poverty rate improved by 2 percentage points compared with the previous year.
Shannon County, S.D.
Poverty rate: 47.3%

Poverty rate of children under 18: 48.9%

Median household income: $27,307

Salaries increased in this county by about $2,000 between 2009 and 2010, and the poverty rate dropped by more than 3 percentage points, but Shannon County remained the third poorest county for the second year in a row.
Todd County, S.D.
Poverty rate: 49.1%

Poverty rate of children under 18: 58.1%

Median household income: $26,393

Todd County shot up from being the sixth poorest county in 2009 to the second poorest in 2010, thanks to a 4 percentage point increase in the proportion of residents that live below the poverty line.

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Ziebach County, S.D.
Poverty rate: 50.1%

Poverty rate of children under 18: 52.2%

Median household income: $25,669

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 over 50% in 2010. Still, it's hard to celebrate when half the county is living below the poverty line.

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