Poorest States In America For 2020


We looked at the most recent census data to determine the states with the highest level of poverty and poor economies.

Join RoadSnacks
This article is an opinion based on facts and is meant as infotainment. Don’t freak out we updated this article for 2020. This is our sixth time ranking the poorest states in America.

Poorest States In America Map

Why must we insist on always looking at the negative? When we saw there was a really high number of searches for ‘poorest states’, we thought – well, we have to give people what they want. So here you go.

Being poor in America isn’t fun, that’s for sure. With people all around us humble bragging on Facebook, and the negative stigma that comes with taking a handout, not having a lot of money is the pits.

America is by far the richest country in the world, when you measure total wealth across the board. When you measure average income per resident by country, Americans are the 6th wealthiest. Switzerland is Mr. Moneybags around these parts. The poorest place in earth? Believe it or not, but there are 5 countries in Africa where folks make less than $1,000 annually.

Still feel poor now?

Here in the us the average poverty rate for a state is 13%, down a full one percentage point over th last several years. Most of us are fairly comfortable. However, today, we’re going to look at the poorest states in America and put some perspective on income levels. Then we’ll try to give these states a little motivation and help them feel a bit better about their situation.

After analyzing all 50 U.S. states, here are the 10 poorest states in America for 2020:

  1. Mississippi (Photos)
  2. New Mexico (Photos)
  3. Louisiana (Photos)
  4. West Virginia (Photos)
  5. Alabama (Photos)
  6. Kentucky (Photos)
  7. South Carolina (Photos)
  8. Arkansas (Photos)
  9. Tennessee (Photos)
  10. North Carolina (Photos)

What’s the poorest state in America for 2020? It turns out Mississippi is the poorest state in the country. Mississippi is having a rough week since we also just named it one of the worst states in America for 2020.

The purpose of this study is to use science to determine which of our great American states are the absolute worst. While unbiased, this research does take into account factors that almost all Americans would agree are undesirable. We get it – knowing the extremes helps put things into perspective; if we know where the poorest and richest places are, we can understand our lives easier. It’s a psychological thing.

At the end of the day, we ended up with this list of the poorest states in the US.

Read on below to see how we crunched the numbers and how your state ranked. Or check out more on the poorest cities to live in America.

For more positive news, feel free to check out the best places to live in the country and the the best states in America.

For more reading, check out:

The 10 Poorest States In America For 2020

1. Mississippi

Mississippi|Ms, MS

Population: 2,988,762
Rank Last Year: 1 (No Change)
Median Income: $43,567 (First worst)
Poverty Level: 20.8% (First worst)
Unemployment Rate: 8.2% (First worst)
More On Mississippi: Photos | Rent

We’re in Mississippi, the nation’s first poorest state. In Mississippi, 20.8% of people live in poverty, meaning nearly 1 in 4 families earns less than about $25,000 annually. That’s the same poverty rate as the African nation of Namibia. That’s poor. Factors that contribute to the very poor atmosphere here are a 8.22% unemployment rate, and up until a couple years ago, 1 in 4 Mississippians wasn’t finishing high school. Hard to get ahead when you don’t study.

When you google mississippi, the first auto suggest is why is mississippi so poor. SO why is Mississippi so poor? For many of the reasons we’ve already talked about before. It’s just worse here than anywhere else. Poor education and limited job opportunities are a big factor. High incarceration rates and a history of racial segregation has held back a large percentage of the population. For many Mississippians, it’s a generational problem. And for quite a few of them, a government safety net of welfare and unemployment makes being poor a lifetime goal.

There are limitless opportunities in Mississippi, as there are in the other states on this list. Being poor is not a life sentence. While these states have large populations that have been poor for ages, it doesn’t have to be so.

2. New Mexico

New-Mexico|Nm, NM

Source: Public domain

Population: 2,092,434
Rank Last Year: 2 (No Change)
Median Income: $48,059 (Fifth worst)
Poverty Level: 20.0% (Second worst)
Unemployment Rate: 7.2% (Third worst)
More On New Mexico: Photos | Rent

In New Mexico, 20% of residents live in poverty, and families bring in about $46,000 a year. That’s about $10,000 less than the national average. 1 in 3 kids lives in poverty here, which is one big reason New Mexico ranked last in the nation for places to raise a family.

Native American reservations and illegal immigrants pad the poverty numbers here, too.

When you look at the nation’s most federally dependent states, New Mexico is at the top. That means New Mexico can’t collect enough from income taxes, and must rely on federal subsidies to help pay for schools, roads, health care and welfare programs.

And we just talked about Louisiana – they receive the MOST assistance from the US government to make up THEIR state budget.

Apparently, things are getting worse in New Mexico, not better. More young working age adults are leaving the state than coming into it, which means more and more federal assistance will be needed down the road.

There’s hope though ,It’s not like there aren’t success stories coming out of New Mexico… Microsoft was founded in Albuquerque and Jeff Bezos grew up in Albuquerque.

3. Louisiana

Louisiana|La, LA

Source: Public domain

Population: 4,663,616
Rank Last Year: 4 (Up 1)
Median Income: $47,942 (Fourth worst)
Poverty Level: 19.4% (Third worst)
Unemployment Rate: 6.9% (Fifth worst)
More On Louisiana: Photos | Rent

We’re heading back to the south where we will remain for most of the rest of our unwealthy excursion. The next stop takes us to Louisiana. Too bad we don’t have enough money to buy booze – they look like they’re having so much fun.

Here, more than 19% of residents live in poverty, and families command a yearly paycheck of around $46,000. That’s not enough for many people here to climb the success ladder.

Other statistics that are eye-opening? Louisiana is last in the nation for income gap by gender. Louisianans are 3rd worst for food insecurity and 3rd worst for education scores. The last statistic makes it tough to entice job growth, since the state doesn’t have the educated population to support it.

Corporate subsidies aren’t helping things in Louisiana. Look at this graph that depicts how much taxpayer money goes from public to private coffers in the Pelican State.

Louisiana’s abundant natural resources is a blessing and a curse. While the state enjoys the windfalls that come with oil and natural gas extraction, many of its residents have become dependent on the energy sector for a paycheck. And It won’t last forever.

There’s a sense of fatalism in Louisiana, too. Poor people just remain…poor here. It is what it is they say. All we can do is pray they say. There’s little urgency here to seek change.

Even though you’re poor, there’s still plenty to do on a budget. Like…actually no all of these things suck. Being broke means you can’t do fun stuff. Never mind.

4. West Virginia

West-Virginia|Wv, WV

Population: 1,829,054
Rank Last Year: 5 (Up 1)
Median Income: $44,921 (Second worst)
Poverty Level: 17.8% (Fifth worst)
Unemployment Rate: 6.7% (Sixth worst)
More On West Virginia: Photos | Rent

The poverty rate is 18% in West Virginia, and families bring in about $44k a year – both very low numbers. However, a couple bright spots keep West Virginians from ranking as even poorer. The unemployment rate isn’t so bad here, so that’s good. And the cost of living is so low here that low salaries mean more families can get by and remain out of poverty.

However, when Walmart is your state’s biggest employer, that’s indicative of a struggling worker base.

West Virginia is in a tough spot. It’s a beautiful state, but all those rolling hills means it’s hard to build big cities and industry. And prescription meds and booze have taken a toll on a large part of the population – West Virginia ranks first in the nation for overdoses.

Migration studies have shown that 60% more people moved out of West Virginia than moved in. And, West Virginia is the only state where death rates exceed birth rates.

5. Alabama

Alabama|Al, AL

Population: 4,864,680
Rank Last Year: 3 (Down 2)
Median Income: $48,486 (Seventh worst)
Poverty Level: 17.5% (Seventh worst)
Unemployment Rate: 6.6% (Eighth worst)
More On Alabama: Photos | Rent

Lots of people in Alabama are bro to the oke. Families here bring in about $46,000 as a household annually – earning about $1,000 less than the average household each month. And about 1 in 5 residents lives in poverty here.

Why is Alabama so poor? Like other states we’ve talked about so far, one side will say unregulated capitalism has created severe poverty here. Other sides will say Alabamans aren’t working hard enough – and can control their own financial fate.

We’re not going to take sides on this, but the poverty is alarming nonetheless. In many Alabama counties, it looks third world, where poverty rates reach 40%.

Alabama’s generational poverty is having an impact on the long term well being of its residents. Many of these poorest counties are also the fattest counties in the state, proof that cheap food is bad for us.

The United Nations usually does research on poverty across the world, but recently, visited parts of America to see how bad poverty is here. Their first stop? Alabama. Their report was quite compelling, and discussed conditions similar to what we see abroad.

You know who isn’t poor in Alabama? Their head coach. He made $11 million last year – more than any other public figure in the state. I guess you get what you pay for – Alabama has been winning national titles left and right lately.

6. Kentucky

Kentucky|Ky, KY

Population: 4,440,204
Rank Last Year: 6 (No Change)
Median Income: $48,392 (Sixth worst)
Poverty Level: 17.9% (Fourth worst)
Unemployment Rate: 6.1% (17th worst)
More On Kentucky: Photos | Rent

Kentucky residents earn the 5th lowest salaries in the nation – at $46k a year. And 1 in 5 Kentucky peeps lives in poverty. If there is a bright side here, at least the unemployment rate is about average. So there are opportunities here to get ahead here.

Just about every state has its haves and have nots. Here in Kentucky, the Bluegrass area that consists of Louisville, Lexington and Cincinnati suburbs are all doing just fine. Several large companies make their headquarters here.

But the rest of Kentucky is pretty broke. The coal mines of eastern and western Kentucky are in decline, as is the tobacco industry. Small towns outside of Kentucky’s urban areas are fading from importance – and 2 in 3 people in Kentucky lives in these boonies.

There’s ways you can get out of the poorhouse, Kentucky guy. People make like $50 a week giving blood, but you have to donate good blood. I don’t know if there’s more meth or mountain dew running through a Kentucky man’s veins.

If you’re living in Section 8 or Section 1, keep your head up, Kentucky. After all, This guy was poor and he ended up saving a whole kingdom. And HE was broke as hell, but he wound up being the star on a kid’s television show.

Yeah I’m proud to be a coal miner’s daughter.

7. South Carolina

South-Carolina|Sc, SC

Source: Public domain

Population: 4,955,925
Rank Last Year: 7 (No Change)
Median Income: $51,015 (Ninth worst)
Poverty Level: 16.0% (11th worst)
Unemployment Rate: 6.4% (13th worst)
More On South Carolina: Photos | Rent

We’ve arrived in South Carolina, the 7th poorest state in America. We’ll grab something off the dollar menu cause that’s all we can afford tonight.

South Carolina peeps are straight strugglin. They have a poverty rate of 16.9%, households bringing in less than $50,000 annually, and 90% of working adults here live paycheck to paycheck.

In America, 75% of full-time workers live paycheck to paycheck. That’s a real big difference.

Many of the problems in SC stem from a lack of good genes. No that’s mean. The real issue here in South Carolina is complex. For instance, Rural South Carolina communities that rely heavily on agriculture are so broke that locals have dubbed the area the Corridor of Shame.

As we’ll see as we continue to move through this list, most of our poorest states are in the south. There are many theories as to why the south is so poor, but many economists agree that going back to Civil War days, the northern states invested in infrastructure and technology, while the south remained committed to farming. As a result, education fell behind, as did the southern economy.

But if you ask people in places like South Carolina if they ‘think’ they’re poor, many will likely tell you ‘no.’ On paper, they don’t have a lot, but a simple life with God, friends and family nearby is all they need.

8. Arkansas

Arkansas|Ar, AR

Population: 2,990,671
Rank Last Year: 8 (No Change)
Median Income: $45,726 (Third worst)
Poverty Level: 17.6% (Sixth worst)
Unemployment Rate: 5.5% (27th worst)
More On Arkansas: Photos | Rent

Next on our list of poorest states in America is #8 ranked Arkansas. Here in Arkansas, a lot of bank accounts are empty. The Natural State has an 17.6% poverty rate, and families bring in about $45,726 a year. We should note, here in Arkansas, smaller paychecks can be stretched much further than in other states, but it’s still tough times here.

Arkansas used to be pretty much the poorest place in the country, but they’re not as poor as before. Back in the 1940s, nearly half of all Arkies lived in poverty. So that’s good – economically, slowly, things are improving here. Of course not everyone grows up poor here. The Clintons are from Arkansas, and they’re certainly not broke. Sam Walton is totally loaded, too. He’s from Arkansas, and is the founder of Walmart.

9. Tennessee

Tennessee|Tn, TN

Population: 6,651,089
Rank Last Year: 11 (Up 2)
Median Income: $50,972 (Eighth worst)
Poverty Level: 16.1% (Eighth worst)
Unemployment Rate: 5.9% (23rd worst)
More On Tennessee: Photos | Rent

Tennessee is an interesting state. It ranks as the ninth poorest in the nation, but has varying levels of wealth across the state. Nashville and Germantown are all filled with wealthy, successful people, but also have some high levels of income inequality. The rest of the state population is pretty poor and way underemployed relative to the rest of the country.

You could drive three hours and see completely different pockets of success in Tennessee. The poverty level sits at 16.1%, while unemployment measures 5.91% — the 23rd worst in the country. People here work very, very hard, but due to the lack of thriving new technology, and a relatively poor education system, it remains one of the poorer states in the nation.

On the brighter side, Tennessee is starting to get its crime rates under control and has some of the more up and coming cities in the country.

10. North Carolina

North-Carolina|Nc, NC

Population: 10,155,624
Rank Last Year: 10 (No Change)
Median Income: $52,413 (11th worst)
Poverty Level: 15.4% (14th worst)
Unemployment Rate: 6.3% (16th worst)
More On North Carolina: Photos | Rent

Here in my home state, the poverty rate is a full 16%, which is 3% higher than the national average. Folks bring in about $50,000 annually – good for the 11th lowest amount in the US. For perspective, people in the richest state, Maryland, earn about $25,000 more each year than in North Carolina.

Now, I live here, and I know where the rich and poor pockets are located. Much of the wealth is in the Charlotte area, in the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill region (called the Triangle), and along the coast. There are large areas in the Tar Heel State where folks are down on their luck. They seem happy though.

North Carolina is a purple state – pretty much a 50-50 split between those with good jobs and those with lousy ones – or without jobs at all.

Things are looking up here; North Carolina is the nation’s 10th-fastest growing state. Many wealthier families are moving here because of the large number of technology and healthcare jobs sprouting up. So, I can imagine this state won’t be on this list too much longer.

How We Determined The Poorest States in the US

The first thing that comes to most people’s minds when they think about determining the poorest places is to simply the poverty rate. That is, the number of people living below a federally established level of income for a household of a certain size.

However, we don’t think that one statistic wholly encompasses what it means to be one of the ‘poorest states’. So we looked at this set of criteria from the newly released 2014-2018 American Community Survey:

  • Poverty level
  • Unemployment rate
  • Median income

The unemployment rate tries to capture the prospects for improvement in the city or town. If more people are employed, the brighter the future looks and vice versa.

We ranked each state from 1 to 50 for each of the criteria, with 1 being the poorest. We then averaged all the rankings for a state into a ‘Poor Score’ with the state having the lowest overall Poor Score crowned the ‘Poorest State In The US For 2020’. You can download the data here.

If you’d like to see the complete list of states, from poorest to richest, scroll to the bottom of this post to see the unabridged chart.

There You Have It — The Poorest States In The Country

If you’re poor in America, there are heart warming rags to riches stories all over he place that you can use as inspiration. Slumdog Millionaire, Pretty Woman, heck even Annie. Most people are probably not going to get adopted by someone, but we’d be willing to bet if America’s poorest states changed their policies, their situations would follow suit.

If you’re curious enough, here are the richest states in the USA, according to science. Apparently, things are ‘all that’ when it comes to northeast America:

  1. New Hampshire
  2. Hawaii
  3. Minnesota

For more reading, check out:

What Are The Poorest States In America For 2020?

Rank State Population Median Income
1 Mississippi 2,988,762 $43,567
2 New Mexico 2,092,434 $48,059
3 Louisiana 4,663,616 $47,942
4 West Virginia 1,829,054 $44,921
5 Alabama 4,864,680 $48,486
6 Kentucky 4,440,204 $48,392
7 South Carolina 4,955,925 $51,015
8 Arkansas 2,990,671 $45,726
9 Tennessee 6,651,089 $50,972
10 North Carolina 10,155,624 $52,413
11 Arizona 6,946,685 $56,213
12 Michigan 9,957,488 $54,938
13 Georgia 10,297,484 $55,679
14 Florida 20,598,139 $53,267
15 Nevada 2,922,849 $57,598
16 Oklahoma 3,918,137 $51,424
17 Ohio 11,641,879 $54,533
18 Indiana 6,637,426 $54,325
19 Missouri 6,090,062 $53,560
20 California 39,148,760 $71,228
21 Oregon 4,081,943 $59,393
22 Texas 27,885,195 $59,570
23 Idaho 1,687,809 $53,089
24 Illinois 12,821,497 $63,575
25 New York 19,618,453 $65,323
26 Montana 1,041,732 $52,559
27 Rhode Island 1,056,611 $63,296
28 Pennsylvania 12,791,181 $59,445
29 Maine 1,332,813 $55,425
30 Alaska 738,516 $76,715
31 Delaware 949,495 $65,627
32 Kansas 2,908,776 $57,422
33 South Dakota 864,289 $56,499
34 Wisconsin 5,778,394 $59,209
35 Connecticut 3,581,504 $76,106
36 Iowa 3,132,499 $58,580
37 Washington 7,294,336 $70,116
38 Wyoming 581,836 $62,268
39 Nebraska 1,904,760 $59,116
40 Vermont 624,977 $60,076
41 New Jersey 8,881,845 $79,363
42 Colorado 5,531,141 $68,811
43 Virginia 8,413,774 $71,564
44 Massachusetts 6,830,193 $77,378
45 North Dakota 752,201 $63,473
46 Maryland 6,003,435 $81,868
47 Utah 3,045,350 $68,374
48 Minnesota 5,527,358 $68,411
49 Hawaii 1,422,029 $78,084
50 New Hampshire 1,343,622 $74,057

About Chris Kolmar

Chris Kolmar has been in the real estate business for almost ten years now. He originally worked for Movoto Real Estate as the director of marketing before founding HomeSnacks.

He believes the key to finding the right place to live comes down to looking at the data, reading about things to do, and, most importantly, checking it out yourself before you move.

If you've been looking for a place to live in the past several years, you've probably stumbled upon his writing already.

You can find out more about him on LinkedIn or his website.

11 thoughts on “Poorest States In America For 2020

  1. Why were objective comments made about residents of all the states except for Georgia? There’s plenty of negative things to be said about people, rich and poor, of other states too.

  2. Your unemployment numbers are way off…by an outrageous margin. Some of your median income numbers don’t jive with official numbers either. Where did you get your data?

  3. I don’t know if you too into consideration the cost of living. The income in Mississippi may be much lower than in Minnesota, but it costs about 2.5 times as much for a comparable house in MN and the taxes are the 3rd highest in the country. I’m not at all sure your accounting is accurate.

  4. California is heavily in debt and has a major homeless problem but yah these states are the poorest. Seems like this was put together by liberals

  5. All the poorest states are all Red conservative Republican run, with exception of New mexico which swings between Dem and Republican run. And to those who say California is heavily in debt, Cal has the fifth largest economy in the world and provides the most tax dollars to the U.S. govt. The red states all provide the least in Tax dollars to the U.S.

    I live in AZ which is Republican run and is the 15th poorest and I have relatives who live in Arkansas (where I wouldn’t live if you paid me to) and I can assure you the southern Red states are waaay poorer than any state Red or Blue out west.

    I’d say overall it’s a tie between Mississippi and Alabama as the worst, They have towns with over 20k in population in both Miss. and Alabama that barely have a grocery store and some don’t have Any grocery stores. Alabama also has the two highest crime rate cities in the U.S. Anniston and Bessimer and both rank very high in poverty as well. With high poverty comes high crime rate.

    If you have grown up in one of the not so poor or Blue states and have never been to one of the 10 poorest states like Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana, Alabama or Georgia you wouldn’t believe the poverty you see there driving thru some of the towns and yet, they will keep supporting/voting Republicans against their own well being, you can’t fix stupid and that is also a tie in with the poorest states they also have the worst / lowest education levels.

  6. I just love the way that this article blames the poor people and minorities for the discrimination and lack of education foisted upon them by their corrupt governments! Can anyone say voter suppression and gerrymandering!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *