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Image: Rural Economy & Population

Poverty Demographics

Poverty by Race/Ethnicity

Areas with a high incidence of poverty often reflect the low income of their racial/ethnic minorities. Nonmetro non-Hispanic Blacks had the highest incidence of poverty in 2012 at 40.6 percent. That rate is three times the rate for nonmetro non-Hispanic Whites in 2012 (13.5 percent). The 2012 poverty rate for nonmetro Hispanics was 29.2 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 two decades, from less than 3 percent in 1990 to 8.1 percent in 2012. (See the section on high-poverty counties for more about poverty in an ethnic/sub regional context.)

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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 2012, more than one out of every 2 persons living in a nonmetro family headed by a female was poor (43.5 percent), and nearly one out of every 5 persons living in a nonmetro family headed by a single male was poor (21.0 percent). In contrast, approximately one out of every 11 persons in nonmetro families headed by a husband and wife was poor (8.8 percent). Poverty rates by family type also reveal large metro-nonmetro differences for single-adult families. In 2012, the poverty rate was more than 11percentage points higher for nonmetro families headed by a female and about 4 percentage points higher for nonmetro families headed by a male 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. The 2012 child poverty rate was 26.7 percent in nonmetro areas and 20.9 percent in metro areas. In contrast, the poverty rate for senior adults (65 years and older) was 9.4 percent in nonmetro areas and 9.0 percent in metro areas. Similarly, working age adults (age 18-64) had much lower poverty rates than children in nonmetro (16.7 percent) and metro (13.1 percent) areas in 2012. Significant metro-nonmetro differences also exist for those populations, with nonmetro poverty 5.8 percentage points higher for children and 3.6 percentage points higher for working-age adults in 2012 than for their metro counterparts. See the section on historical rural/urban child poverty and deep poverty in the overview.

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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: Friday, October 31, 2014

For more information contact: Tracey Farrigan