The South Is Essentially A Solid, Grim Block Of Poverty

The South Is Essentially A Solid, Grim Block Of Poverty

The Great Recession and Not-So-Great Recovery have been bad news for most Americans, but some people have suffered more than others. We call those people "Southerners."

North Carolina and a handful of other Southern U.S. states saw the biggest increases in the number of people living in what are known as "poverty areas" between 2000 and 2010, according to a new Census Bureau report. Poverty areas are places where more than 20 percent of the people live below the federal poverty line, which varies by family size. For a family of four, the poverty line in most states is an annual income of $23,850.

Today, 25.7 percent of all Americans live in such areas, up from 18.1 percent in 2000, according to the report. Having a quarter of the nation living this way is a problem: Poverty areas are typically marked by "higher crime rates, poor housing conditions, and fewer job opportunities," the report points out.

This map, created by plugging Census data into the Datawrapper mapping tool, shows the rise was not exactly spread evenly across the country:

Note that Southern states were five of the six biggest gainers. This should not be much of a shock, as Southern states consistently lag the rest of the country in good things like wages, economic mobility and access to health care, while leading it in bad things like poverty, obesity and general unhappiness. Another thing Southern states have in common is Republican political leaders that have spent the past decade shrinking the social safety net.

Bucking the trend, two Southern states, Louisiana and West Virginia, actually saw the number of people living in poverty areas shrink during the decade.

And the region that saw the biggest overall rise in the number of people living in poverty areas between 2000 and 2010 was the Midwest, not the South. That may be because the Midwest had relatively low numbers to start. Its numbers are still relatively low -- though it now has more people living in poverty areas than the Northeast, which fared pretty well during the recession and recovery. As you can see from this Census graph, the South started out with very high rates of people living in poverty areas and got even higher, with nearly a third of all Southerners living in poverty areas:

poverty regions

And this Census map highlights the difference between regions even more starkly. Look at that solid, grim block of poverty:

poverty regions 2

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