The Census Bureau may have given some good news about the economy recently, when it reported a 5.2 percent gain in middle-class median incomes — up to $56,500 in 2015 from $53,700 in 2014 — but that doesn’t mean blessings fall equally on all Americans.
In fact, when 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the numbers to see which states were richest and which poorest, it found that 11 states were pretty much left out of income growth.
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Cities saw the most income growth, while rural areas lagged. And southern states didn’t gain near as much as western ones.
The gap between male and female wage earners still exists. And gains across the population did not reach evenly across race or ethnicity, either. Black workers made the smallest gains, achieving a median income of $36,898, followed by Hispanics at $45,148, while Asian-Americans made the largest and reached a median income of $77,166. White, non-Hispanic workers actually made lesser gains than Asian-Americans, reaching $62,950.
And according to an Economic Policy Institute report, black workers actually lost ground over the last 37 years. Male black workers made 22 percent less than white workers in 2015 — but back in 1979, with newly minted civil rights laws on the books, the gap was 16.9 percent. And female black workers fared even worse; in 1979, the pay gap between them and white females was 4.5 percent, while in 2015 that gap more than doubled to 11.5 percent. That’s not progress.
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Not only did 24/7 Wall St. use the latest Census Bureau data to determine how the states ranked, it also factored in that agency’s American Community Survey from 2015, information on employment, food stamps, poverty and health insurance coverage.
When it was done, it came up with these 10 states that still lag despite any progress the economy may have made:
North Carolina has high unemployment, contributing to its number 10 ranking. (Photo: iStock)
10. North Carolina
Median household income: $47,830.
Population: 10,042,802 (9th highest).
2015 unemployment rate: 5.7 percent (15th highest).
Poverty rate: 16.4 percent (12th highest).
North Carolina has its problems. Even though it saw a decent increase, percentagewise, in median household income from 2014 ($46,585) to 2015 ($47,830), the state still has money issues. With high poverty and high unemployment, pay increases don’t help if you don’t have a job.
One good thing is that homes are cheaper in the state —in fact, at a median of $160,100, they run more than $30,000 below the national.
Tenneesee has the third highest percentage of population on food stamps. (Photo: iStock)
Median household income: $47,275.
Population: 6,600,299 (17th highest).
2015 unemployment rate: 5.8 percent (14th highest).
Poverty rate: 16.7 percent (10th highest).
Among Tennessee’s problems are its high poverty rate, high unemployment, and one of the lowest median household incomes in the country — despite the fact that it’s risen substantially from 2014’s level of $44,403.
Add to that the fact that it has the third highest percentage of its population receiving food stamps — 17.6 percent — and it’s clear that Tennessee has a way to go to provide for its residents.
South Carolina has a low cost of living but struggles with a high unemployment rate. (Photo: iStock)
8. South Carolina
Median household income: $47,238.
Population: 4,896,146 (23rd highest).
2015 unemployment rate: 6 percent (10th highest).
Poverty rate: 16.6 percent (11th highest).
South Carolina had no place to go but up in median household income, which rose significantly from 2014’s $45,277 to hit $47,238. But that’s not enough to solve all the state’s money problems.
The state also copes with a high unemployment rate and an even higher poverty rate. The one bright spot is the low cost of living, which on average is almost 10 percent lower than across the country. That’s reflected in the lower cost of housing, too; homes run more than $40,000 less than the national median.
Louisiana has the third highest poverty rate in the United States. (Photo: iStock)
Median household income: $45,727.
Population: 4,670,724 (25th highest).
2015 unemployment rate: 6.3 percent (6th highest).
Poverty rate: 19.6 percent (3rd highest).
Homes in Louisiana run a hefty $30,000 less than the national benchmark, at $155,300. That’s kind of a tipoff to the state with the third highest poverty rate in the country and the fact that as many as 10 percent of all households in the state earn $10,000 or less a year, the second highest such share of any state. Of course, high unemployment also factors into the state’s poor standing economically.
New Mexico has the third highest unemployment rate in the United States. (Photo: iStock)
6. New Mexico
Median household income: $45,382.
Population: 2,085,109 (15th lowest).
2015 unemployment rate: 6.6 percent (3rd highest).
Poverty rate: 20.4 percent (2nd highest).
New Mexico’s median annual income didn’t change, so residents didn’t benefit from any of the good news in the Census Bureau’s latest report.
Instead, the state was coping with one of the highest unemployment rates in the country, coupled with the second highest poverty rate anywhere in the United States.
Kentucky has the fifth highest poverty rate in the United States. (Photo: iStock)
Median household income: $45,215.
Population: 4,425,092 (25th lowest).
2015 unemployment rate: 5.4 percent (20th highest).
Poverty rate: 18.5 percent (5th highest).
It can be tough to get ahead in Kentucky, despite the fact that its median household income of $45,215 a year has increased since 2014, when, adjusted for inflation, it was $43,014.
Part of the problem could be lack of a college degree among residents; just 23.3 percent of adults have a bachelor’s degree, and that’s considerably lower than the national college attainment rate of 30.6 percent.
Alabama's median income rose but its poverty rate is also high. (Photo: iStock)
Median household income: $44,765.
Population: 4,858,979 (24th highest).
2015 unemployment rate: 6.1 percent (8th highest).
Poverty rate: 18.5 percent (5th highest).
Alabama actually reaped some benefit from the increase in median incomes; its own rose to $44,765 from 2014’s, which, adjusted for inflation, was just $42,895.
But that doesn’t mean the state is out of the woods. Not only is its poverty rate one of the highest in the country, the fact that home prices are low here — the median home is worth $134,100, which is more than $60,000 below the national benchmark of $194,500 — doesn’t help enough with putting food on the table. A substantial portion of Alabama’s population also relies on food stamps.
This lovely state, West Virginia, has the highest unemployment rate. (Photo: iStock)
3. West Virginia
Median household income: $42,019.
Population: 1,844,128 (13th lowest).
2015 unemployment rate: 6.7 percent (the highest).
Poverty rate: 17.9 percent (7th highest).
Not only does West Virginia have the highest unemployment rate in the country, it also has one of the largest numbers of recipients of government assistance programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. In fact, 16.0 percent of its households — the ninth highest percentage in the country — are reliant on food stamps.
Sure, it's on this list of 10 poorest states, but homes in Arkansas are also low in cost. (Photo: iStock)
Median household income: $41,995.
Population: 2,978,204 (18th lowest).
2015 unemployment rate: 5.2 percent (24th highest).
Poverty rate: 19.1 percent (4th highest).
Arkansas may be the Natural State, but there’s nothing natural about going hungry. Even though prices are low here, that doesn’t help much if there’s still no money to buy goods and services.
One small bright spot is the low cost of homes. At just $120,700, the typical home in Arkansas is valued at more than $70,000 below the national benchmark of $194,500.
Mississippians understand poverty all too well; 11.5 percent earn $10,000 or less annually. (Photo: iStock)
Median household income: $40,593.
Population: 2,992,333 (19th lowest).
2015 unemployment rate: 6.5 percent (4th highest).
Poverty rate: 22 percent (the highest).
Mississippi finished at the bottom last year, and nothing’s changed about that. The national median income is $55,775, but Mississippi lagged that number by more than $15,000.
And many Mississippians understand poverty all too well; 11.5 percent earn $10,000 or less annually, the highest extreme poverty rate of any state. There aren’t that many affluent households in the state, either. Only 2.1 percent of Mississippi households earn $200,000 or more a year, the lowest such share.