How Persistent Poverty Impacts Economic Development

How Persistent Poverty Impacts the U.S. Economically


About 10.9% of the nation’s 3,142 counties experienced high poverty rates for an extended period, according to a new U.S. Census Bureau report on persistent poverty. These counties have experienced a poverty rate of 20.0% or higher during the three decades period from 1989 to 2015-2019. Communities with a long history of high poverty can also experience chronic poverty, which identifies people consistently in poverty. This persistent poverty significantly affects the economic climate and people of the area. 

The U.S. Census Bureau’s report suggests people living in high poverty areas experience significant barriers to well-being whether or not they’re poor themselves. The longer poverty exists in an area, the more likely the community lacks adequate infrastructure and support services. For that reason, government agencies want to identify areas with high rates of poverty over time to determine if they need support.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) – The 10-20-30 Provision was previously used to define persistent poverty and to identify counties that experienced it. But federal agencies use a variety of definitions (with different years and data sources) that identify a different number of counties that need support.

This Census Bureau project provides several possible options to identify persistent poverty (About This Research below). It also expands on existing research by examining subcounty geographies down to census tracts. Drilling down to that level provides a more complete count of people living in areas of persistent poverty.

For this project, we used data years that would reflect economic-well-being over an extended period by using four time periods equal in length to survey a 30-year period from 1989 to 2015-2019. We expanded on existing research by examining subcounty geographies over the same time periods.

Counties With Persistent Poverty


The 341 counties identified in persistent poverty were not evenly distributed throughout the United States according to the U.S. Census (Figure 1). Over 80% were in the South and nearly 20% of all counties in the South were in persistent poverty. 

Figure 1. Counties in Persistent Poverty: 1989 to 2015-2019
Counties identified as being in persistent poverty were typically less populous; they made up 10.9% of counties but only 6.1% of the U. S. population. In total, 19.4 million people lived in a persistent poverty county during the 30-year period. The Northeast region also suffered, where over 28.4% of the population lived in persistent poverty even though the region accounted for a 17% slice of the nation’s population. The Northeast’s entire persistent poverty population lived in three heavily populated counties (Bronx and Kings counties in New York and Philadelphia County in Pennsylvania).

Figure 2. Percentage of State Population Living in Persistent Poverty Counties: 1989 to 2015-2019


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