Economic, demographic and geographic factors all contribute to the high poverty rates in the poorest cities in the United States. According to the US Census Bureau, the national poverty rate sits at around 12.3%. This translates to nearly 40 million people living in poverty in the United States. The poverty line is determined by both the number of people in a household as well as the location of the household. The poorest city in the US is Flint, Michigan, which has a poverty rate of just under 40%.
The 5 Poorest Cities in the United States
1. Flint, Michigan - 38.9%
Located in Mid-Michigan, Flint is the seventh largest city in Michigan with a population of 102,434. Once a booming automotive town, Flint has seen its share of crises since the 1980s. The city made major headlines around the world in 2014 for being the site of a major water crisis, thanks to pipes contaminated with lead. Today, 38.9% of Flint's population lives below the poverty line. The per capita income in Flint is $15,733.
2. Gary, Indiana - 36.3%
Like Flint, the city of Gary, Indiana, has also been a victim of deindustrialization, white flight, and disinvestment. Located only around 25 miles from downtown Chicago, Gary is found in northern Indiana with a population of 80,294. One home to very successful steel mills, today many businesses and homes sit abandoned in Gary. 36.3% of the city's population lives below the poverty line. The per capita income in the city is $14,383.
3. Camden, New Jersey - 35.7%
Camden, New Jersey, is located just across the river from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Unfortunately, the city suffers from high degrees of urban blight and the third highest poverty rate in the country, at 35.7%. The per capita income in Camden is $18,007 and the unemployment rate is 19.6%. Poverty rates among children are particularly high in Camden.
4. Passaic, New Jersey - 35%
With 70,000 residents and a land area of around 3.244 square miles, Passaic New Jersey is one of the nation's most densely populated cities as well as one of its poorest. The poverty rate within the city stands at 35%. Passaic is the second New Jersey city to make the top five. New Jersey has a poverty rate of around 11%, state-wide. However, some activists in the state warn that the poverty wage may actually be higher than this in practice. The poverty rate in New Jersey is said to have worsened since the recession of 2008.
5. Youngstown, Ohio - 34.9%
Youngstown is a city in northern Ohio, around 60 miles from Cleveland. Youngstown marks the halfway point between Chicago and New York City, two of the largest cities in the United States. There are around 66,982 people living in Youngstown, 34.9% of whom are living below the poverty line. The household income of Youngstown is estimated at around $24,448.
Working to Alleviate Poverty
These areas are deprived when compared to more affluent areas of the US, and some of them have been in this poverty trap for some time now. Without external assistance, it can be difficult to see how they can hope to grow in terms of wealth. Indeed, as it stands large-scale investments from outside sources would be required to create the jobs needed to generate wealth and to build a sufficient standard of living, as the internal monies for investment are simply just not there. The irony of being in such a poverty trap is that the workforce able to help these metro districts out of it, and to build a better future, are coming into these cities every day with prejudices against them as being seen as detrimental to the economy. For this reason, a change in peoples’ attitudes may go as far as policies to bring about the changes in fortune that these areas so desperately need.