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Image: Rural Economy & Population

Poverty Demographics

A Note About the Data Source

The American Community Survey (ACS) was developed by the Census Bureau to replace the long form of the decennial census. The ACS uses a rolling sample of U.S. housing units (250,000 monthly) to provide basic population characteristics annually for areas with populations of at least 65,000 people. ACS accumulates samples over 3- and 5-year intervals to produce estimates for areas with smaller populations; only the 5-year average ACS provides coverage for all counties in the United States. The 2013 ACS is used here to examine poverty by various demographic characteristics.

Poverty by Race/Ethnicity

Areas with a high incidence of poverty often reflect the low income of their racial/ethnic minorities. Nonmetro blacks and African Americans had the highest incidence of poverty in 2013 (37.3 percent), while nonmetro American Indians and Alaskan natives had the second highest rate (34.4 percent). The poverty rate for nonmetro whites in 2013 was less than half as much (15.9 percent) of both groups. Nonmetro Hispanics had the third highest poverty rate, which was 28.2 percent. The high rate of poverty for Hispanics is noteworthy as their share of the nonmetro population increased faster than other racial/ethnic groups over the last several decades.

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Poverty by Family Composition

Family type has a significant bearing on poverty. Families headed by two adults are likely to have more sources of income than single-adult families with children and are therefore less likely to be poor. In 2013, nearly four out of every ten nonmetro families headed by a female with no spouse present were poor (39.1 percent) and five out of every ten of those with related children were poor (50.5 percent). In contrast, less than one in ten nonmetro married couple families were poor in 2013. Poverty rates by family type also reveal large metro-nonmetro differences for single-adult families. In 2013, the poverty rate was about 10 percentage points higher for nonmetro families headed by females (no spouse present) in general as well as for those with related children than for the same types of metro families.

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Poverty by Age

Poverty rates also differ by age group and nonmetro/metro residence. In 2013, the nonmetro/metro difference was greatest for children under six years old (30.3 percent nonmetro and 23.9 percent metro). Overall child poverty rates (under 18 years) were 26.2 percent in nonmetro areas and 21.6 percent in metro areas. In contrast, the poverty rate for senior adults (65 years and older) was 10.4 percent in nonmetro areas and 9.4 percent in metro areas. Similarly, working age adults (age 18-64) had much lower poverty rates than children in nonmetro (17.8 percent) and metro (14.4 percent) areas in 2013.

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These rates do not indicate how long people live in poverty. Some families cycle into and out of poverty over time, while others are persistently poor. Persistent poverty among children is of particular concern, as the cumulative effect of being poor may lead to poor health, limited education, and other negative outcomes. Also, research suggests that the more time a child spends in poverty or living in a high poverty area, particularly those with concentrations of racial and ethnic minorities, the greater the chance of being poor as an adult. See "Child Poverty Persistent and Widespread" in Rural America at a Glance, 2009 and Rural Children at a Glance for more on this topic.

Last updated: Thursday, April 09, 2015

For more information contact: Tracey Farrigan