Poverty imposes far-reaching hardships, not only on the poor but on all who share their communities. Virginia has a relatively low poverty rate -- it was ranked 9th in the nation in 2012 – but it, too, has been affected by recent trends, with more than 1 in 10 residents now living below federal poverty thresholds. Virginia continues to work to make education and opportunity available to its at-risk populations.
Why is This Important?
Poverty has a significant impact on individuals and society at large. Children who live in poverty are likely to suffer from poor nutrition during infancy, experience emotional distress, and have an increased risk for academic failure and teenage pregnancy. Adult men and women who live in poverty are at high risk of poor health and violence. Poverty can also affect seniors' ability to care for themselves or to obtain prescription medication.
How is Virginia Doing?
Virginia had the 9th lowest poverty rate in the nation in 2012 at 11.7 percent, a small increase from the year before. Due to the 2007-2009 recession and its prolonged high joblessness, poverty rates in Virginia have seen small but steady increases for the past six years. In fact, although many states have seen minor reductions across certain years, poverty rates on the whole have been increasing nationwide since the start of the decade.
Among Virginia's peers, Maryland had the lowest poverty rate in 2012 at 10.3 percent, while North Carolina and Tennessee both had considerably higher rates -- 18.0 and 17.9 percent, respectively. New Hampshire ranked top in the nation with a poverty rate of 10.0 percent. The national average held steady at 15.9 percent in 2012.
In 2011 the Southside region had the highest percentage (20.5%) of individuals living below the poverty level of any region in the state, followed by the Southwest (19.4%) and Eastern (15.7%) regions. At the other end of the scale, the Northern region (6.8%) had the lowest percentage of individuals living below the poverty level, followed by the Hampton Roads (12.4%) and Central (12.5%) regions.
What Influences Poverty?
As with personal income, the two largest factors affecting poverty are educational attainment and economic opportunity. There is a strong and direct relationship between educational attainment and earnings and employability. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that in 2012 an adult (aged 25+) with a bachelor’s degree earned about 60 percent more than an adult with just a high school diploma and was only about half as likely to be unemployed. However, a good education is not enough. Workers also need the job opportunities and potential for upward mobility a healthy economy creates to reach their full earning potential.
What is the State's Role?
Traditionally, the primary role of government in addressing poverty has been to provide a social safety net that mitigates its impact. Since the mid-1990s, however, welfare reform efforts at the state and federal levels have changed the focus of this effort to "welfare to work," where those in need are provided temporary assistance and access to resources that will enable them to become self-supporting. This is accomplished through programs like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), food stamps, Medicaid and various workforce initiatives.
In addition to these practical efforts, the state can reduce long-term poverty rates by enhancing general education and providing a good climate for business and employment growth -- two of the key factors that affect long-term poverty rates.
Data Definitions and Sources
State and U.S. (2005-2012)
U.S Census Bureau, American Communities Survey
Localities (1997-2011), State and US (1997-2004)
U.S. Census Bureau, Small Area Income & Poverty Estimates
Education level and income comparisons: Bureau of Labor and Statistics
The Census Bureau defined the poverty level for a single individual as $11,720 in 2012. Many government assistance programs use different poverty measures.
Starting in 2005, the American Community Survey was used to estimate poverty rates. Previous years used the Annual Social and Economic Supplements of the Current Population Survey.
See the Data Sources and Updates Calendar for a detailed list of the data resources used for indicator measures on Virginia Performs.