The 10 Most Low Income Cities in the US

Streetscene Collins Court in Miami Beach

This neighborhood could be in one of the many poor cities in America | Source: iStock

America celebrates its diversity, continuing to champion the dream that a person from any background can find success in various hubs around the nation. And while the American Dream does come true for many people, its luster is fading as time goes on. Part of the reason is that the cost of living continues to go up in many cities around the country, but incomes remain stagnant.

There are plenty of high-profile cities like New York and San Francisco that attract high rollers, and have high incomes compared to the rest of the country. However, other cities are struggling. Though people in the top echelons of every city are sitting pretty, the median incomes vary greatly. Even in some large cities, the percentage of people who are earning low annual incomes can be extremely high.

The median household income in the United States is $53,657. Poverty thresholds changed based on how many people are in your family, but at earnings of around $20,000, families of three or larger are considered impoverished. In some of the poorest cities in the America, that median household income would seem like a windfall.

To get an idea of which cities are the poorest in the nation, FindtheHome analyzed data from the Five-Year American Community Survey (compiled by the U.S. Census Bureau). FindtheHome only included cities with 500,000 people or more, and took a look at the percentage of people who earn incomes of less than $25,000 per year. They also took a look at the percentage of people with a bachelor’s degree, and the percentage of people earning more than $150,000. That wage comparison is often quite large. Here are the 10 poorest cities in America, based on FindtheHome’s analysis.

10. Boston

boston subway

Downtown Boston | Darren McCollester/Newsmakers

  • Percentage of incomes under $25,000: 29.0%
  • Percentage of population with a bachelor’s degree: 43.9%
  • Percentage of incomes over $150,000: 13.0%

In what might be one of the more surprising cities on this list, Boston is the No. 10 poorest city in the United States. While a significant portion of the city’s population does have a college degree, low wages keep the city’s population from getting ahead. Boston has previously made our lists for the worst places to retire and the least affordable cities for recent college grads, hitting every age group in between as well, apparently.

9. Indianapolis

Indianapolis skyline

Indianapolis | Source: iStock

  • Percentage of incomes under $25,000: 29.1%
  • Percentage of population with a bachelor’s degree: 27.3%
  • Percentage of incomes over $150,000: 5.2%

The Midwest might be the heartland of America, but Indianapolis certainly isn’t a hub for high earners. Just a handful of residents make more than $150,000, perhaps due to the fact that only about a quarter of the people have earned a college degree. Though a concerning number of people have incomes of less than $25,000, Indianapolis is still considered by many to be an affordable city to live. Incomes aren’t especially high, but neither is housing or other costs of living.

8. El Paso

view of El Paso

El Paso | Source: iStock

  • Percentage of incomes under $25,000: 30.7%
  • Percentage of population with a bachelor’s degree: 22.7%
  • Percentage of incomes over $150,000: 5.2%

El Paso and Indianapolis have identical low shares of people earning $150,000 or more. However, a slightly higher percentage of people living in the low-income group place El Paso at the No. 8 spot on our list. According to CBS News, a lower-than-average rate of high school graduation (74% compared to the national average of 85%) might be a contributing factor, since lower levels of education often contribute to lower earning power as well.

7. Fresno

"Fresno, California pinned on a map

Fresno on a map | Source: iStock

  • Percentage of incomes under $25,000: 31.4%
  • Percentage of population with a bachelor’s degree: 20.3%
  • Percentage of incomes over $150,000: 6.1%

As the population with a college degree continues to drop, the percentage of incomes equalling $25,000 or less continues to rise. Such is the case with Fresno, which suffers from a particularly high unemployment rate. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Fresno’s unemployment rate in January 2016 was 10.5%, more than double the national rate of 4.9% that same month. According to one analysis by WalletHub, it was the city with the lowest decrease of its unemployment rate out of 150 metro areas in the U.S.

6. Baltimore


Baltimore | Drew Angerer/Getty Images

  • Percentage of incomes under $25,000: 33.2%
  • Percentage of population with a bachelor’s degree: 26.8%
  • Percentage of incomes over $150,000: 6.4%

Baltimore is the No. 6 poorest city in the nation, according to FindtheHome’s analysis. Roughly a third of the city’s residents earn less than $25,000, making it tough to get ahead even if the cost of living is lower than other larger cities. Baltimore residents also have one of the highest tax burdens in the nation, meaning that a larger portion of their already-meager earnings never reaches their bank accounts.

5. Tucson, Arizona

Cityscape of Tucson downtown, Arizona

Tucson | Source: iStock

  • Percentage of incomes under $25,000: 34.8%
  • Percentage of population with a bachelor’s degree: 24.7%
  • Percentage of incomes over $150,000: 3.3%

Starting with Tucson at the No. 5 spot, the rest of the cities on our list have more than a third of their residents earning less than $25,000 per year. Granted, Tucson’s spot could be explained by the fact that it’s the home to the University of Arizona, and student incomes (remarkably lower than the rest of the general population’s) could be an influencing factor. Still, just 3.3% of Tucson residents earn more than $150,000, suggesting the city has tamped-down incomes overall. That’s backed up by a Brookings Institution analysis, which shows Tucson ranks No. 97 out of the largest 100 cities in America for economic growth.

4. Memphis

Memphis Skyline

Memphis | Source: iStock

  • Percentage of incomes under $25,000: 34.9%
  • Percentage of population with a bachelor’s degree: 23.7%
  • Percentage of incomes over $150,000: 4.8%

Memphis just slightly edges out Tucson to be the fourth poorest city in the nation. As is common with the other cities, a slim sector of the population claims high incomes, and low income households are far more common. A suppressed economy is one major factor, and Memphis scored poorly across several measures of progress from the Brookings Institution. Perhaps most damaging is the decline in median wages, which fell 7.9% from 2013 to 2014 and was the second-worst in the nation.

3. Philadelphia


Philadelphia | Source: iStock

  • Percentage of incomes under $25,000: 36.4%
  • Percentage of population with a bachelor’s degree: 23.9%
  • Percentage of incomes over $150,000: 5.3%

Unfortunately, the City of Brotherly Love doesn’t extend graciousness toward the lowest earners. More than 36% of people earn less than $25,000, with many earning far less than that. According to one report from the Philadelphia Inquirer, the city also has the highest rate of “deep poverty” — a term for people who earn below half of the federal poverty level.

2. Milwaukee


Milwaukee | Source: iStock

  • Percentage of incomes under $25,000: 36.5%
  • Percentage of population with a bachelor’s degree: 22.1%
  • Percentage of incomes over $150,000: 3.0%

Milwaukee has a similar rate of people earning less than $25,000 compared to people living in Philadelphia, but the city has an astoundingly low percentage of people earning more than $150,000 on the other side of the spectrum. Many experts continue to blame decades of manufacturing and industry losses, obviously affecting high-paying jobs in the metro area.

1. Detroit


Detroit | Jeff Haynes/AFP/Getty Images

  • Percentage of incomes under $25,000: 48.0%
  • Percentage of population with a bachelor’s degree: 12.7%
  • Percentage of incomes over $150,000: 1.9%

Detroit’s issues have been well known on a national scale for some time, mostly stemming from a loss of manufacturing jobs in the Rust Belt. The middle class is struggling in the city, though from the data above it’s clear that there are few people in upper income levels at all. Detroit hits the lowest levels of higher education and incomes over $150,000 than any other city on this list, and almost half of the population earns less than $25,000 per year.

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