Counties With The Highest Poverty Rates In America

new jersey

With nearly 40 million Americans in poverty and COVID-19 threatening future economic security for many more, Stacker has released an analysis on poverty rates across America- including local takeaways for New Jersey and nationwide.

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Using the most recent five-year estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau, Stacker analyzed the state of poverty in New Jersey to gain insights into poverty’s impact on the overall population, racial disparities in poverty, and county-level comparisons.

Poverty in New Jersey

Overall, New Jersey has 904,132 people living below the poverty line or 10.4% of the state’s population – the #44 highest rate of poverty among all states. Cumberland County has the highest poverty rate within New Jersey (17.6% of its population) while Cape May County has the lowest (4.6%).

Counties with the highest and lowest poverty rates in New Jersey

Poverty is one of America’s most vexing and poignant issues—what causes it, why does it persist, how can we end it, what defines it, and just how many people are poor? To take a look at state-level poverty, Stacker analyzed the U.S. Census Bureau’s five-year population estimates from the 2014-2018 American Community Survey (ACS) to show the breakdown of poverty across America.

New Jersey statistics:

  • Overall state poverty rate: 10.4% (904,132 people)
  • Child poverty rate: 14.8% (288,675 people)
  • Race/ethnicity poverty rates:
    • Asian American: 6.9% (56,804 people)
    • Black Americans: 18.2% (209,499 people)
    • Hispanic/Latin Americans: 19% (330,818 people)
    • Native Americans/Alaskans: 19.3% (3,524 people)
    • White Americans: 6.1% (295,522 people)
  • Counties with the highest poverty rate:
    • #1. Cumberland County: 17.6% (24,830 people; 69.1% above state)
    • #2. Passaic County: 16.7% (82,823 people; 60.5% above state)
    • #3. Essex County: 16.4% (127,250 people; 58.1% above state)
  • Counties with the lowest poverty rate:
    • #1. Morris County: 4.6% (22,607 people; 55.4% below state)
    • #2. Somerset County: 4.7% (15,319 people; 54.9% below state)
    • #3. Hunterdon County: 4.8% (5,828 people; 53.7% below state)

The U.S. FPL is a metric first used in the 1960s that is based on the cost of a minimal food budget multiplied by three on the assumption that food comprises a third of a household’s expenses. The FPL is used as a threshold for determining an individual or families’ eligibility for assistance programs from SNAP benefits to Medicaid. Various social services have different caps for eligibility from 100% of the FPL or higher.

In 2019, the FPL threshold for one person under the age of 65 was an annual income of $13,300; the FPL for a family of five with three kids was an annual income of $30,510.

Some say 200% of the federal poverty level is a more realistic figure for covering the cost of basic needs in the United States. None of the measures captures what is known as episodic poverty, which affects workers with temporary jobs or those in the informal or gig economies.

Poverty rates in America also reveal a disturbing racial gap, with Black Americans 2.5 times more likely to be poor than white Americans, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Research generally points to causes like poor education systems, workplace discrimination, and high incarceration rates. The coronavirus has reached into that gap, with correlations between poverty and COVID-19 hitting low-income Black communities disproportionately hard. Experts say there is more likelihood of underlying medical conditions that make Black people vulnerable, such as diabetes and heart disease. Those communities tend to have less access to good health care and have higher populations of essential workers who cannot stay home and are forced to stay on the job and risk getting infected.

U.S. by county

U.S. by state

New Jersey by county


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