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Policy & Research INSIGHTS

Changes in U.S. Poverty Rates, by County, from 2007 to 2011

by Matthew Adams -  12/21/2012

On Wednesday, the U.S. Census Bureau released its Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates for 2011, which provide the most accurate and detailed poverty estimates nationwide each year.

A recent methodological breakthrough has allowed for the comparison of data from previous years. To highlight and supplement the release of the new data, ICPH created a visualization using a technique originally publicized by the Bureau in the early 1970s.

County Poverty Rates 07-11

This map graphic compares counties to the national poverty rate1 of 15.9% in 2011 (upper left), and identifies changes in rates from 2007, before the recession began (upper right). These two maps are superimposed on a single map to show the relationship between the two sets of data.

In the areas where poverty increased, there was variation by region. In 2011, 21% of counties in the north were below the national rate (shown in light green), while 21% of counties in the south were above it (indicated in purple), both with no change in the rate from 2007. While many parts of the northeast and midwest experienced increases in poverty rates since 2007, these areas were still below the national rate in 2011 (10%, bright green). On the other hand, poverty not only increased, but was above the national rate in pockets of the southeast and southwest (11% of total, shown in blue .

The maps show that in 30% of counties across the country, the poverty rate has stayed consistent. As a testament to the lasting impact of the recession, less than 1% of all counties witnessed decreases in poverty, regardless of whether they were above or below the national rate (bright pink, light pink, and tan).

Viewed together, these maps show that already high poverty rates are increasing in many areas around the country, and that even in areas where poverty rates are at or below the national average, these counties have not seen an improvement in their poverty rates since 2007.


1 Defined by the U.S. Census at $23,021 a year for a family of four

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