America's Poores...America's road to economic recovery has been long and slow -- and uneven. Some parts of the country are doing a lot worse than others. It's a pattern that shows up in the unemployment numbers, poverty rates, and of course foreclosures. But if you want a quick, simple gauge of how any part of the U.S. is doing economically, just look at its median household income.
Even when you factor in cost-of-living differences, it's clear: Those who live in the metropolitan areas with the lowest median household incomes are doing significantly worse than their fellow citizens. Five of the 10 cities with the highest poverty rates also are among the 10 cities with lowest median income, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data. Many are in Appalachia, which has historically struggled with poverty and where heavy industry has been in decline. Others are concentrated along the U.S.-Mexico border, where joblessness and high poverty rates go hand in hand.
Located on the Rio Grande, this city serves as one of the biggest border crossings in the U.S., and is the point of entry for a large percentage of the goods that come into the country from Mexico. But while the border crossing provides certain economic benefits, it also attracts crime and drug trafficking.
The economy here used to be driven by the steel industry, and as recently as 2010, the area's unemployment rate was as high as 15 percent. Median household income in the area is about $15,000 less than the national average. Fortunately, the city sits directly atop the Marcellus Shale. This vast geological formation, which stretches across several states, contains an enormous quantity of natural gas that only has become accessible in recent years, thanks to a drilling technique called fraccing. The natural gas boom in the greater Marcellus Shale region has already brought 300 jobs to the area, according to ABC News, and it is expected that 10,000 more will be generated here in the next three years.
Unemployment here is well below the U.S. average of 9.1 percent, but the city still has an extremely high poverty rate. According to BestPlaces, roughly 20 percent of households in the city earn less than $15,000 each year.
The second largest city in New Mexico has one of the highest rates of people living in poverty in the country. The last ten years have seen incomes drop and the number of middle class households decline. It's located in the center of an agricultural region irrigated by the Rio Grande, but it lacks a central business district. According to the University of New Mexico Bureau of Business and Economic Research, "the structure of Las Cruces' economy remains overly dependent on low-wage service industries such as retail, accommodations, and food services."
The population in the city of Cumberland, situated on the West Virginia border, has declined by nearly 50 percent since the 1950s. A series of plant closures and factory relocations, including Pittsburgh Plate Glass and Allegany Munitions, were the primary reasons for this decline. In 1987, the Kelly Springfield Tire Plant, which was at the time the largest factory in the city, closed.
The number of people living in poverty in this Appalachian metropolitan area increased almost twice as fast as the national average between 2007 and 2009. It also grew at a faster rate than both Tennessee and Virginia. Tom Casteel, director of theWashington County Department of Social Services in Virginia told TriCities.com that "the increase in housing prices combined with increasing food, gas and utility costs has led to a previously unheard of number of people coming by his office asking about food stamps and other public assistance programs."
The ninth-largest city in the state of Georgia has the fifth-highest poverty rate in the country. In 2008, the Cooper Tire and Rubber plant, at the time one of the city's largest employers, closed, laying off more than 1,400 employees. The city's unemployment rate is substantially higher than the national average.
Located on the southern tip of Texas, this exceptionally poor area has the nation's second highest poverty rate: Nearly 30 percent of residents receive food stamps -- the highest rate among all metropolitan areas in the country. The area also struggles with high population growth: The number of people there has more than doubled since 1980.
Pine Bluff, has a median household income about $16,600 less than the U.S. median. According to BestPlaces, nearly one in four households makes less than $15,000 each year. More than 22 percent of the city's residents live below the poverty line, compared to a national average of just over 15 percent. Morgan Quitno Press rated the Pine Bluff Metro area as the second most dangerous in the U.S., after only Detroit.
With a median household income more than $18,000 less than the national average, this metropolitan area suffers from the worst poverty rate in the country. Located in the southern tip of Texas, along the Mexican border, it's one of America's fastest growing cities, due primarily to its high rate of immigration. The high school graduation rate is exceptionally low -- only 53 percent.