The poorest U.S. states can be determined by looking at poverty rates and median household incomes.
In 2019, the U.S. poverty rate was 12.3%. Poverty is defined as not having enough income to meet basic needs, such as housing, food, clothing, and healthcare.
Levels of wealth and financial well-being vary significantly between states. Poverty and financial well-being are impacted by unemployment levels, education access and educational attainment, inherited poverty, and the systematic exclusion of racial and ethnic minorities, those with disabilities, tribes, or women from accessing certain institutions.
The cost of living varies significantly by state, as does the livable wage. This means that even if a person can get by in one state, it does not mean they would be able to in another. Despite some states having low costs of living livable wages, many people can still afford basic needs in those states.
Unfortunately, poor states are more like to have worse health outcomes and lower life expectancies than their wealthier counterparts. This is likely due to a little or no access to quality health care or not being able to afford regular preventative care.
Poorest U.S. States
Mississippi is the poorest U.S. state. Mississippi's median household income is $45,792, the lowest in the country, with a livable wage of $46,000. Additionally, the state has a poverty rate of 19.6%, the highest of any state. Unfortunately, Mississippi also has the highest obesity rate in the country of 40.8% and the lowest life expectancy of 74.5.
West Virginia is the second-poorest U.S. state, with a $48,850 median household income and a poverty rate of 17.54%. West Virginia's educational attainment levels are on the low side, with the lowest percentage of adults with a Bachelor's degree or higher, and has the second-lowest life expectancy of 74.8.
Lousiana is the third-poorest state. Louisiana's median household income is $51,073, which is above its livable wage of $48,000. However, its poverty rate is 19.0%, the second-highest in the country. Louisiana public schools are considered to be among the worst in the U.S.
The fourth-poorest state in the U.S. is Arkansas. Arkansas's median household income is the third-lowest at $48,952. The state's poverty rate is 16.2%, the fifth-highest in the U.S. Arkansas's obesity rate is 37.4%, the third-highest among all states, behind only West Virginia and Mississippi.
5. New Mexico
New Mexico tops the five poorest U.S. states. New Mexico's median household income is $51,945, and its poverty rate is 18.2%, the third-highest in the country. Unfortunately, New Mexico's public schools are ranked the worst in the U.S., with the highest dropout rates of any state.