Poverty in the United States presents a complex mosaic of challenges and disparities. As the latest census data reveals — Census Bureau’s 2022 American Community Survey — poverty rates continue to ebb and flow across the 50 states, each grappling with its unique economic, social, and demographic factors.
We analyzed data on poverty rates by state, looking back over the last decade to see how levels of poverty have changed. Bear in mind that 10 years ago, the year 2012 witnessed many American housing markets finally hit rock bottom and — though the Great Recession had technically ended in 2009, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) — the early 2010s were a time of terribly slow recovery. Thus, poverty rates in 2012 tend to be higher than today. However, that is not always the case.
Read on to find out which U.S. states have the highest poverty rates and which ones have the lowest, as well as more detailed findings.
10 States With the Lowest Poverty Rates
The top 10 states with the lowest poverty rates are geographically a mix of the U.S. Northeast region and some from the Midwest and West. The No. 1 state with the lowest poverty rate is New Hampshire, with only 7.2% of its population living below the poverty line. A decade ago, New Hampshire’s poverty rate was 10%, before dropping by 28% to its current level of 7.2%. The state that came in second with the lowest poverty rate is Utah, with only 8.2% of its population living below the poverty line.
Utah’s 10-year decline in its poverty rate — a decrease of nearly 36%, from 12.8% in 2012, down to 8.2% in 2022 — is the greatest decline of all 50 states. On the other hand, Maryland, which is tied for having the fourth lowest poverty rate, experienced one of the smallest decreases in its poverty level over the last decade. Maryland’s poverty rate only declined by 6.8%, from 10.3% in 2012 to 9.6% in 2022.
Five states witnessed a decline of 30% or more in their poverty rates over the last 10 years:
- Utah poverty rate change 2012-2022: -35.9% | 12.8% to 8.2%
- Georgia poverty rate change 2012-2022: -33.9% | 19.2% to 12.7%
- Arizona poverty rate change 2012-2022: -33.2% | 18.7% to 12.5%
- Idaho poverty rate change 2012-2022: -32.7% | 15.9% to 10.7%
- Colorado poverty rate change 2012-2022: -31.4% | 13.7% to 9.4%
10 States With the Highest Poverty Rates
Now, we turn to the other end of the spectrum. The 10 states with the highest poverty rates are geographically composed of Southern states and some exceptions, like New Mexico and New York. In the state with the worst level of poverty — Mississippi — nearly one-fifth of the population (19.1%) were living below the poverty line in 2022, which is an improvement, nonetheless, over its 21.5% poverty rate in 2017.
A couple of the states with the highest poverty rates also experienced either sluggish declines since 2012 or, in the case of West Virginia, for example, an outright increase in poverty. For instance, in Louisiana, which has the second highest poverty rate at 18.6%, from 2012 to 2022, the state saw only a 6.5% decrease in its level of poverty: From 19.9% in 2012, to 18.6% in 2022. Oklahoma, which has the ninth highest poverty rate, saw its level decline by only 8.7% over the last 10 years, from 17.2% to 15.7%.
Poverty Rate by State in 2023
Below is a table detailing the poverty rates in all 50 states plus D.C., with data going back 10 years.
In only 3 states out of 50 have state poverty rates increased over the 10 years from 2012 to 2022. These states include Alaska, where the percentage living below the poverty line rose by 8.9%: From 10.1% in 2012, up to 11% in 2022. North Dakota was the second state, though its change was only from 11.2% in 2012 to 11.5% in 2022. The third state — West Virginia – also saw a tiny rise, from 17.8% in 2012 to 17.9% in 2022.
Poverty Rates by State: Seniors
On the surface, economic conditions look fairly good, with 47 states plus D.C. all experiencing declines in their respective levels of poverty from 2012 to 2022. But this general, bird’s eye view, hides a lot of critical patterns and nuances.
As mentioned above, only 3 states out of 50 saw poverty rates increase since 2012. However, what this seemingly positive news hides is an inexorably increase in levels of poverty among people 65 years and older. In only 4 states out of 50 did the percentage of 65-year-olds and older living below the poverty line decline.
The poverty rates of people aged 65 and older and, more importantly, their growth of the last 10 years, are startling. In Alaska, the percentage of people aged 65 and older that live below the poverty line went from a modest 4.4% in 2012, to more than 1-in-10 in 2022 (10.2%). That represents an increase of 131.8% over the last decade. Wyoming also witnessed a doubling of its poverty rate among seniors: From 4.8% in 2012, the share of people aged 65 and older living in poverty rose by 104.2%, reaching 9.8% by 2022.
Interestingly, it is the District of Columbia that is home to the highest poverty rate among people aged 65 years and older, with 15.9% of them living below the poverty line in 2022. This is up by more than a third (33.6%) since its poverty rate back in 2012, when it was 11.9%. Louisiana comes in second, with 14.8% of people 65 years and older living below the poverty line in 2022, up from 12.6% in 2012.