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Where is poverty?

Where is there a higher density of poverty in the US? The Bureau of the Census has several data sets that allow us to map the answer to this question by county.

We previously reported about the Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates (SAIPE) program that takes data from various sources (for example, SNAP benefits and IRS filings) to model and estimate poverty rates in each county. One of the sources is the American Community Survey, which has relatively small samples to work with in many counties and, thus, cannot be used in isolation to estimate poverty at a yearly frequency. But it can be more reliable when looking at five-year averages.

This five-year average is what the FRED map above shows us, with the stated year being the last of those five years. The map shows clearly that there is more poverty in the South, with several states having a majority of counties with over 50% of households living under the poverty level.

Now, to understand such a statement, one has to understand what is meant by “poverty level,” as there are many definitions. The Bureau of the Census determines how much basic needs cost in the US on average for different household configurations. Households with a total income below that cost are considered in poverty. Note that there is no geographic variation in the cost, meaning that poverty in high-cost areas is likely undercounted and poverty in low-cost areas is likely overcounted.

How this map was created: Search FRED for “population below the poverty line,” click on any county, and then click on “View map.”

Suggested by Christian Zimmermann.

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