Blog for Rural America

The Center for Rural Affairs, a private, non-profit organization, is working to strengthen small businesses, family farms and ranches, and rural communities. Permission to reprint items from this web log is hereby granted, on the condition that clear credit is given to the original source of the material. If the blog provides information for a story, please let us know by sending an email to

Monday, June 05, 2006

Poverty in Rural America

Latest County Income Level Data

Great Plains economy has rebounded, but low incomes still persistent in rural America

In an annual ritual, we bring you the latest data from the US Department of Commerce, Bureau of Economic Analysis on county income levels.

Based on 2004 data (the latest data available), the new figures again show how pervasive low incomes are in the rural United States. Of the 250 lowest income counties in the nation, 225 are non-metropolitan counties.

However, some good news continues for the Great Plains region. The lowest income region in the nation from 1997 to 2002, the rural economy in much of the Great Plains appears to have significantly rebounded, though still lagging behind urban areas.

For example, in our 2003 publication Swept Away we found that rural counties in Nebraska had 66 to 70 percent of the per capita income of the state’s metropolitan counties for the 1990 to 2000 period. In 2004, it was up to 80 percent. Nebraska, which had several of the lowest 10 or 20 income counties in past years, has only three of the lowest income 250 counties based on 2004 data – Loup (2), Grant (14) and McPherson (123).

Ironically, the nation’s highest per capita income county is also the smallest. Loving County, Texas, population 62 (and declining, according to the Census Bureau), is home to vast oil and gas deposits and a per capita income of $89,471, nearly 800 percent greater than its Texas companion, Starr County.

Over 100 of the lowest 250 counties are located in four states – Kentucky (35), Texas (30), Mississippi (20), and Georgia (19). Only 12 are metropolitan counties – five in Georgia, three in Texas, and two each in Kentucky and Mississippi. In all, 33 states have at least one county included in the 250 lowest income counties.

Lowest Income Counties in the United States

County 2004 Per Capita Income ($)
1. Starr, TX 11,362
2. Loup, NE 13,372
3. Maverick, TX 13,586
4. Zavala, TX 13,873
5. Ziebach, SD 13,933
6. Zapata, TX 14,253
7. Jefferson, MS 14,479
8. Union, FL 14,535
9. Todd, SD 14,557
10. Presidio, TX 14,781

Source: US Department of Commerce, Bureau of Economic Analysis. The complete list of the 250 lowest income counties may be found at

post a question or comment here or contact John Crabtree,

Center for Rural Affairs
Values. Worth. Action.


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