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Families with Low Incomes

Rates of poverty are higher in rural areas compared to urban areas. According to the United States Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service, in 2019 15.4% of people living in rural areas had an income below the federal poverty line, while those living in urban areas had a poverty rate of only 11.9%. The proportion of families with low incomes varies across the United States. For instance, the rural South has a 19.7% poverty rate, while the rural Midwest has a poverty rate close to 13.4%.

Across the country, many minority populations experience significantly higher rates of poverty. This disparity is even more pronounced in rural areas, where poverty rates are as high as 30.7% for rural African Americans. Although rural ethnic and racial minorities have higher rates of poverty, the vast majority of rural families with low incomes — around six million people — are White non-Hispanic.

Families with low incomes are at risk for experiencing poor health outcomes due to reduced access to healthcare services, barriers to living a healthy lifestyle, and stress related to living with limited resources. Families in rural areas can lack access to important health and human services because of:

  • Limited transportation options
  • Lack of accessibility to healthcare providers and social services
  • Physical and social isolation

Living on a low income can reduce a family's ability to overcome these challenges and obtain the services they need, such as public assistance programs to address food insecurity and healthcare services such as preventive screenings, oral healthcare, behavioral health, and family planning services.

Federal and state programs offer opportunities to families with low incomes to address these barriers. However, these programs can be difficult to navigate and eligibility criteria can differ from program to program. Services integration programs can address these challenges by assisting families with enrollment and improving access to services through co-location and coordination of programs and services.

Resources to Learn More

The Intersection of Rural Poverty and Federal Human Services Programs
This policy brief describes the intersection of rural poverty and human service delivery and includes a discussion of two approaches used to meet challenges in service delivery.
Organization(s): National Advisory Committee on Rural Health and Human Services
Date: 1/2014

USDA Rural Poverty & Wellbeing
This website provides recent data (2012) about poverty in the United States, analyzed by geography and demographics. The website covers several topics including an overview of poverty, geography of poverty, demographics of poverty, income, and government transfer payments.
Organization(s): United States Department of Agriculture