From 2007 to 2011, 703 counties, more than 22 percent of the total counties, had poverty rates 20 percent or greater, much higher than the 494 counties at those levels in 2000, ERS reports. Of the 703 counties, 571 counties, or 28.9 percent, were rural, while 132, or 11.3 percent, were in metro areas. "The majority of non-metro high-poverty counties and non-metro poor are located in areas with a long history of distressed or transitioning regional economies, many with a former dependency on natural resources and/or a largely low-skill minority population," ERS says. "Overall, high poverty counties tend to be clustered into groups of contiguous counties that reflect distinct regional and racial concentrations."
Race and ethnicity are also factors. Of the 571rural counties classified as high-poverty, three-fourths "are classified as Black, Hispanic or Native American," ERS reports. Of the remaining 25 percent of high-poverty counties, "most are located in the Southern Highlands of Eastern Kentucky, West Virginia and parts of Missouri and Oklahoma. In these areas, the poor are predominantly non-Hispanic whites. Other high-poverty counties are neither minority nor Southern Highlands. They include thinly settled farming areas in the northern Great Plains, where annual income levels vary widely depending on wheat and cattle prices and output. They also include areas with significant housing market and employment impacts associated with the 2007-09 recession and preceding financial crisis." (Read more)