Rural-to-urban population moves have changed the landscape of the poor in the last 50 years.

The American South has become less poor than it was in the past, while the West has seen a rise in poverty, according to a new analysis of Census data by the Pew Research Center.

In 1960, almost half of America’s poor (49 percent) lived in the South. By 2010, that number was at 41 percent—still a substantial share, but considerably less than before. Meanwhile, the West’s share of the nation’s low-income population climbed from 11 percent in 1960 to 23 percent in 2010.

In the last 50 years or so, the poverty rate in the South decreased from 36 percent to 16 percent. The next highest regional reduction took place in the Midwest, at just 3.6 percent. Here’s a map of what the geographical shift in poverty rate looks like:

The decline in America’s overall poverty rate from 22 percent to 15 percent between 1960 and 2010 partly explains these regional trends. (By 2013 it had fallen further, to 14.5 percent.) Some experts attribute this general drop to President Lyndon Johnson’s post-1964 War on Poverty, though others disagree about the success of these policies.

The rural-to-urban movement of poor during this period is another likely reason for this regional shift in poverty. The share of the nation’s population that lives in cities increased from 70 percent in 1960 to 81 percent in 2010. During this period, bolstered by federal housing policy, wealthier whites moved to the suburbs while the poor clustered within the cities.

A lot of the country’s most crowded cities happen to be in the West, Northeast, and Midwest. Twenty of the most populous counties in these cities—Los Angeles County in L.A., Queens County in New York, and Clark County in Nevada, for example—have gained poor residents. In 2010, one in five low-income Americans lived in these counties; back in 1960, these regions only contained 14 percent of the nation’s poor.

Today, urban poverty continues to drive this regional shift. Here’s Pew’s Jens Manuel Krogstad with some context:

Twelve of today’s most populous counties had poverty rates above the national average in 2010, including Los Angeles, Cook (Chicago) in Illinois, Maricopa (Phoenix) in Arizona, Kings (Brooklyn) in New York, and Dallas. In 1960, eight of these 12 counties had poverty rates below the national average.

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. Design

    A New Plan to Correct a Historic Mistake in Pittsburgh

    A Bjarke Ingels Group-led plan from 2015 has given way to a more “practical” design for the Lower Hill District. Concerns over true affordable housing remain.

  2. A photo of a closed street in St. Louis
    Equity

    The Curious Tale of the St. Louis Street Barriers

    Thanks to an '80s mania for traffic calming, the St. Louis grid is broken by hundreds of bollards and cul-de-sacs. Critics say it’s time to get rid of them.

  3. A crowded room of residents attend a local public forum in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
    Life

    Are Local Politics As Polarized As National? Depends on the Issue.

    Republican or Democrat, even if we battle over national concerns, research finds that in local politics, it seems we can all just get along—most of the time.

  4. Equity

    The Hidden Horror of Hudson Yards Is How It Was Financed

    Manhattan’s new luxury mega-project was partially bankrolled by an investor visa program called EB-5, which was meant to help poverty-stricken areas.

  5. A women-only subway car in Mexico City, Mexico
    Equity

    What’s the Best Way to Curb NYC Subway Harassment?

    While other countries have turned to women-only cars, New York legislators are proposing to ban repeat sex offenders and increase penalties for subway grinders.