Poverty in the U.S. is a choice directly reflecting federal, state, and local policies. The expansion of safety net programs in response to the pandemic-driven recession reduced poverty rates nationally in 2021 to below pre-pandemic levels. However, because policymakers ended many of these programs—including expanded unemployment insurance, the expanded Child Tax Credit, and economic impact/stimulus payments—poverty rates rose from 7.8% in 2021 to 12.4% in 2022. Child poverty, which had fallen to record lows in 2021, increased from 5.2% to 12.4% in 2022.
In this post, we show poverty rates in each state. Data for the official poverty measure—the one most often quoted in media—are compared with the Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM) that provides a more complete picture of the well-being of families in the states. When using the more comprehensive measure of poverty, we see that poverty rates increased in every state after programs like the expanded Child Tax Credit were allowed to expire.
The official poverty rate fails to capture the true level of economic hardships families face
The official poverty measure classifies a family as being below the poverty line if their pre-tax cash income is lower than the official poverty threshold for their family’s size and the age of family members. The SPM, however, is more reflective of the typical expenses families face. This measure takes into account family income as well as noncash benefits families receive, including Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, housing assistance, and tax credits. This measure further adjusts for taxes that families pay, child care expenses, health care costs, and geographical differences in the cost of housing.
Figure A below shows the official and SPM rates for all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Southern states make up 13 of the 15 states with the highest official rates of poverty. Louisiana and Mississippi are tied for the highest poverty rate at 19.1%, almost one in five residents of each state. They are followed by New Mexico, West Virginia, and Arkansas, all with poverty rates of 15% or higher.
When ranked by the SPM, California (17.2%) and the District of Columbia (16.7%) rise to become the jurisdictions with the highest poverty rates—reflecting the high costs of living, particularly in housing. Louisiana (16.2%) falls to the third-highest rate followed by Florida (15.4%) and Mississippi (15.2%). The top 15 states with the highest SPM rates also includes New York (14.4%), Hawaii (13.4%), and Nevada (13.4%), again likely because of high housing costs. There is a 10.7-percentage-point difference between the state with the highest SPM rate (17.2%) and the lowest (6.5%).
Overall, Southern states are overrepresented among high-poverty states according to both measures. Ten of the 15 states with the highest SPM rates are Southern states, and no Southern states are among the 15 states with the lowest SPM rates.
15 states have Supplemental Poverty Measure rates above the national rate and 10 are in the South: Official and Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM) rates by state, 2022
|State||Official poverty rate 2022||Supplemental Poverty Measure rate 2022|
Source: Author’s analysis of U.S. Census Bureau’s Poverty in the United States 2022 Table B-5: Number and percentage of people in poverty by state using 3-year average: 2020, 2021, and 2022.
Poverty increased in states across the country
Figure B focuses exclusively on SPM rates in 2021 and 2022. This data show that poverty rates increased across all states once many of the safety net supports ended in 2021. The increases in poverty rates were not equal across all states, indicating that differences in state and local policies helped mediate the impact of ending many of the pandemic programs. Six states had increases in poverty that were 4.0 percentage points or higher in 2022: Louisiana (4.5), New Jersey (4.4), Maine (4.2), Nevada (4.1), Oregon (4.0), and California (4.0). Rounding out the top 10 states with the largest percentage-point increases in poverty were West Virginia (3.9), Illinois (3.6), Florida (3.5), and Pennsylvania (3.3). Just two states had poverty rates that increased by less than a percentage point: Montana (0.7) and Iowa (0.7).
Poverty rates rise in states across the nation: 2021 and 2022 poverty rate by state
|State||2021 Poverty rate||2022 Poverty rate||2021–2022 percentage point change in poverty rate|
Source: EPI analysis of 2021 and 2022 U.S. Census Bureau Table B-5: Number and percentage of people in poverty using 3-year averages.
State lawmakers can pass policies to expand the safety net for vulnerable Americans
These data show that social policy matters for the well-being of Americans and their families. During the pandemic, the federal government moved to ensure that workers, the unemployed, and families across the nation had the resources they needed to make ends meet—and poverty rates fell as a result. But after policymakers let many of these programs expire, 2022 poverty rates increased nationally and across each state. Policymakers at the state level should heed the lessons of the economic response to the pandemic and implement similar policies to lift up their residents and reduce poverty.
Calculating the Supplemental Poverty Measure at the state level requires the use of 3-year averages to ensure adequate sample sizes. Both the official poverty rate and the supplemental poverty rate here use the 3-year average to ensure they are comparable.
The District of Columbia is not a state but is referred to as a state in this blog for simplicity.
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