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Top 12 Poorest States In America in 2024

The United States is one of the wealthiest nations globally. It has 37.9 million people but about 11.5% of its population lives in poverty. Poverty affects many people in the United States due to issues like low income, unemployment, and limited education. Efforts to help those in need have been ongoing since the Great Depression, with programs like the Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM) giving a better understanding of poverty. The COVID-19 pandemic made poverty worse for eight million people showing the ongoing need to find effective ways to reduce poverty and help those struggling financially. Here is the list of the poorest states in America.

List Of the US States With the Highest Poverty Rates

  1. Mississippi
  2. West Virginia
  3. Arkansas
  4. New Mexico
  5. Louisiana
  6. Kentucky
  7. Alabama
  8. Oklahoma
  9. South Carolina
  10. Tennessee
  11. North Carolina
  12. Georgia

1. Mississippi

Mississippi stands out as one of the poorest states in America. With a poverty rate of approximately 19.5% as of 2020. In 2024 it has the highest poverty rate with 18.8%. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, it faces significant economic challenges. The state’s median household income of around $45,792 in 2020 is notably lower than the national average.

Mississippi’s economic struggles are further evident in its unemployment rates. As of December 2023, the state reported an unemployment rate of 6.3%, above the national average, indicating ongoing challenges in job creation and retention.

Mississippi has grappled with disparities in education and healthcare, contributing to the cycle of poverty. Efforts to address these issues have been ongoing, with initiatives aimed at improving access to quality education and healthcare services for residents.

Despite these challenges, Mississippi boasts a rich cultural heritage and natural beauty, offering opportunities for growth and development with continued investment in its people and resources.

Also Read: Top 10 Wealthiest States in America

2. West Virginia 

According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2020 American Community Survey, West Virginia had a median household income of $48,850, well below the national median of $68,700. This economic disparity is further highlighted by the state’s poverty rate, which stood at 17.10% in 2020, compared to the national average of 10.5%.

The state’s economic challenges are rooted in its historical reliance on declining industries such as coal mining and manufacturing. The decline in these sectors has led to job losses and population decline, exacerbating poverty and economic struggles in the region. West Virginia faces healthcare and education challenges, with high rates of chronic illnesses and lower educational attainment levels compared to national averages.

Efforts are underway to diversify the economy and improve infrastructure, but these changes take time. Addressing the economic disparities in West Virginia requires a multifaceted approach that includes investment in education, healthcare, and sustainable industries.

3. Arkansas

Arkansas faces significant economic challenges that impact its residents’ well-being. As of 2021, Arkansas had a poverty rate of around 17.2%, higher than the national average. The state’s median household income is below the U.S. average of $50,000 yearly.

Several factors contribute to Arkansas’ economic struggles. The state has a high percentage of jobs in low-paying industries such as agriculture, manufacturing, and retail. Limited access to quality education and healthcare services further exacerbates poverty levels, especially in rural areas.

Efforts are underway to address these issues, such as initiatives to boost job growth and improve education and healthcare access. However, progress has been slow, and Arkansas continues to face persistent poverty and income inequality.

Arkansas is home to resilient communities and a rich cultural heritage. Continued investment in economic development and social welfare programs is crucial to improving the state’s overall prosperity and quality of life for its residents.

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4. New Mexico

New Mexico has faced persistent economic challenges over the years. As of 2021, it ranked among the states with the highest poverty rates, with around 18.55% of its population living below the poverty line, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The state’s economic struggles can be attributed to various factors, including a high unemployment rate, limited educational opportunities, and a reliance on industries like agriculture and tourism that often provide low-wage jobs.

New Mexico has grappled with issues such as income inequality and disparities in access to healthcare and other essential services, particularly in rural areas. Despite efforts to diversify its economy through initiatives like renewable energy development and technology investments, the state continues to face significant economic disparities compared to wealthier regions in the country. Addressing these challenges requires comprehensive strategies focused on education, job creation, and equitable economic development to improve the quality of life for all New Mexicans.

5. Louisiana

Louisiana had a poverty rate of 18.65% higher than the national average. This figure reflects a longstanding issue even before the COVID-19 pandemic, Louisiana struggled with poverty rates consistently above the national average.

Factors contributing to Louisiana’s economic struggles include a reliance on industries like agriculture, manufacturing, and energy, which have experienced fluctuations and downturns. Disparities in education and healthcare access contribute to the state’s economic challenges.

Efforts to address these issues have included initiatives to diversify the economy, improve education outcomes, and expand healthcare access. However, progress has been slow, and Louisiana continues to grapple with high poverty rates and economic inequality.

Louisiana’s resilience and cultural richness remain defining aspects of the state, offering hope for future economic improvement and prosperity.

6. Kentucky

Kentucky’s poverty rate in 2022 was notably higher than the national average, with approximately 16.61% of its population living below the poverty line. This statistic underscores a deep-rooted issue within the state’s economy marked by factors of limited job opportunities, low household incomes, and inadequate access to education and healthcare.

The Appalachian region of Kentucky, in particular, faces significant poverty-related issues, with several counties consistently ranking among the poorest in the nation. Despite efforts to diversify industries and attract investments, job growth has been sluggish, contributing to the state’s economic struggles.

Furthermore, Kentucky’s rural areas often experience higher poverty rates compared to urban centers, exacerbating disparities across different regions. Addressing these challenges requires a comprehensive approach that focuses on creating sustainable employment, improving education and healthcare infrastructure, and fostering economic development initiatives tailored to the state’s unique needs.

Also Read: Most Corrupt States in America

7. Alabama

Alabama stands out as the poorest state in the United States. With a poverty rate of 15.98%, it faces significant economic challenges. The median household income in Alabama is around $50,000, well below the national average.

One of the contributing factors to Alabama’s economic struggles is its heavy reliance on agriculture, manufacturing, and service industries, which have faced significant disruptions over the years. The state also grapples with issues such as inadequate healthcare access and education disparities, further exacerbating poverty levels.

Despite ongoing efforts to boost the economy, incentives for businesses, and infrastructure investments, Alabama continues to struggle with high unemployment rates and income inequality. Initiatives aimed at improving education and workforce development are crucial for addressing long-term economic challenges and lifting more residents out of poverty.

In recent years, programs focusing on job training, small business support, and access to affordable housing have shown some positive results, but sustained efforts are needed to create lasting change and improve the overall well-being of Alabama’s population.

8. Oklahoma

Statistics reveal that the poverty rate in Oklahoma has consistently been higher than the national average, with 15.27% of the population living below the poverty line. This figure translates to over half a million Oklahomans struggling to meet their basic needs.

One of the contributing factors to Oklahoma’s economic struggles is its heavy reliance on the energy sector, particularly oil and natural gas. Fluctuations in energy prices have had a significant impact on the state’s economy, leading to job losses and income instability for many residents. Furthermore, issues such as limited access to quality education and healthcare services further exacerbate poverty in the state.

Efforts to address these challenges include initiatives focused on diversifying the economy, improving education and healthcare outcomes, and providing support to low-income families. The road to economic prosperity for Oklahoma remains a challenging one. Requiring comprehensive strategies and sustained efforts from both government and private sectors.

9. South Carolina

South Carolina ranks among the poorest states in America with a poverty rate of 14.6%. This situation is compounded by disparities in income distribution, where the wealthiest households earn considerably more than the poorest ones.

One of the contributing factors to South Carolina’s economic struggles is its historical reliance on industries such as textiles and manufacturing, which have faced declines in recent decades. The state has been actively working to diversify its economy, with a focus on sectors like aerospace, automotive manufacturing, and renewable energy.

Despite these efforts, the poverty rate remains a concern, especially in rural areas where job opportunities are limited. Initiatives aimed at improving education, workforce development, and access to affordable healthcare are crucial for addressing these issues and creating a more equitable economic landscape for all South Carolinians.

10. Tennessee

Tennessee’s poverty rate is 14.62% between 2016 to 2022. This rate places Tennessee among the bottom-ranking states in terms of poverty levels. One of the contributing factors to Tennessee’s economic struggles is its heavy reliance on low-wage industries such as manufacturing and agriculture, which have seen a decline in recent years. The state also grapples with issues like inadequate access to healthcare, education disparities, and a high percentage of residents living below the federal poverty line.

Efforts to address these challenges include initiatives to boost job creation, improve education and skills training programs, and expand healthcare access. 

However, despite these efforts, Tennessee continues to face persistent poverty issues that require ongoing attention and innovative solutions from policymakers and community leaders alike. Tennessee doesn’t have a state income tax, and its property taxes are also quite low. Because of this, Tennessee has become an attractive place to live, and it plays a role in keeping land prices reasonable.

Also Read: Universities in Washington, D.C.

11. North Carolina

North Carolina the poorest state in America grappling with significant economic challenges. With a poverty rate of around 13.98% as of 2021, it reflects a persistent struggle for many residents. The state’s economy has faced various hurdles, including the decline of traditional industries like textiles and furniture manufacturing.

One critical issue contributing to North Carolina’s economic disparities is the wage gap. The state has a median household income below the national average, with disparities more pronounced among minority communities. In recent years, there has been a push for policies addressing income inequality and access to affordable healthcare and education.

Efforts are underway to revitalize the economy, including investments in renewable energy, technology, and healthcare sectors. However, the journey to uplift North Carolina’s economy and reduce poverty remains a complex and ongoing challenge, necessitating concerted public and private efforts.

12. Georgia

Georgia’s poverty rate of 14.28% has been a persistent challenge despite efforts to boost economic growth and employment opportunities. This figure translates to approximately 1.4 million Georgians living below the poverty line.

Several factors contribute to Georgia’s economic struggles. One significant issue is income inequality, with the top earners in the state commanding a disproportionately large share of wealth compared to the bottom earners. Furthermore, rural areas in Georgia often face higher poverty rates than urban centers, highlighting the uneven distribution of economic opportunities.

Efforts to address poverty in Georgia include initiatives focused on job creation, education, and social welfare programs. However, sustained progress remains a complex challenge requiring multifaceted solutions tailored to the state’s unique economic landscape. Continued attention to addressing poverty and fostering inclusive growth is crucial for improving the well-being of Georgians across the state.

A Table Comparison of Poorest States In America

US StatePopulationPoverty Rate
West Virginia1,755,59117.10%
New Mexico2,053,90918.55%
South Carolina4,950,18114.68%
North Carolina10,098,33013.98%


The poorest states in America face challenges like income inequality and limited job opportunities. Efforts to combat poverty require investment in education, healthcare, and economic development. Collaboration between government, private sectors, and communities is crucial for implementing effective solutions and creating opportunities for all residents. Continued focus on inclusive growth and targeted policies can help alleviate poverty and improve the overall well-being of individuals in these states. This article has listed the top 12 poorest states in America.


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Oleksandra Mamchii

Working as a academic lead at Best Diplomats.

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