According to the 2020 Missouri Poverty Report, Missouri ranks about the middle of the pack when it comes to residents living in poverty. Our population rose slightly between 2017 and 2018, but unemployment figures and poverty rates have significantly increased. That’s likely not a surprise when we consider the impact of the COVID-19 crisis, but what should be a concern is that these rates increased before the pandemic hit.
However, not all Missourians have suffered equally when it comes to unemployment and poverty.
Where are Missourians the Poorest?
Nationally, 13.1% of all people in the United States live below the poverty level. Statewide, Missouri’s poverty rate is only slightly higher, at 13.2%. But if we dig a little deeper, it’s easy to see that some parts of the Show-Me State are poorer than others. Overall, we see the highest poverty rates in south central and southeastern counties. Out of the state’s 114 counties, 18 of them have a poverty rate above 20%.
Missouri Counties with the Highest Poverty Rates
The city of St. Louis has a poverty rate of 22.8%. However, three Missouri counties have poverty rates above 25% — and all are located in Missouri’s bootheel. With the exception of Adair County, the rest are located in southern part of the state:
Poverty in Missouri and Demographics
There are some notable changes in poverty rates between 2017 and 2018. The good news is that individuals who identify as white or Asian have actually seen their wealth increase, while the bad news is that the poverty rates of African Americans and Hispanic/Latinos have spiked. As of 2018, more than a quarter of all African Americans — 25.7%– were living at the poverty level in our state, while the figure is close to 20% for Hispanics/Latinos. And that’s before the COVID-19 crisis hit, which sent unemployment rates skyrocketing to 9.7% in April 2020, thus increasing the number of Missourians struggling to make ends meet.
Unemployment Rates: Let’s Look at the Demographics
Ethnicity and Gender
Prior to the worst global pandemic in 100 years, Bureau of Labor Statistics data confirm that white men fared the best when it comes to jobs — statewide they enjoyed an unemployment rate of only 2.6% with white women not far behind at 3.1%. However, it’s important to remember that the top counties with the highest unemployment rates are rural, and white. Those of Hispanic or Latino ethnicity had an unemployment rate of 4.8%, but Missouri African Americans have endured the highest levels of unemployment: 4.9% for women and a whopping 5.5% for men.
The youngest members of the adult workforce have had the highest rates of unemployment. On average, 6.5% of those in the 20-24 years age group were unemployed in 2018, with young women facing the greatest challenges. Nearly 8% of women were unemployed prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, while only 5.1% of young men experienced the same challenges in finding work.
So, based on the data, it’s easy to see that young African American men are experiencing the greatest challenges in finding work. However, simply having a job doesn’t guarantee that Missourians won’t struggle to make ends meet.
Minimum Wage Earners and Poverty Go Hand-in-Hand
Effective January 1, 2020, Missourians saw an increase in the state’s minimum wage to $9.45 per hour. That’s a gradual increase from $7.05 since 2011. At the new rate of pay, someone working 40 hours per week will earn $19,656 each year, or $378 per week.
According to Poverty Guidelines set for 2020 by the Department of Health and Human
Services, a family of four with a total annual income of $26,200 is still at the poverty level. That’s when they make $125 per week or $500 per month more than someone earning minimum wage in the state of Missouri. The bottom line is this:
The truth is, Missourians have certainly suffered as a result of COVID-19. However, some of our residents have struggled for a long time in finding a job and earning enough to live a comfortable life. It’s time to get serious about equity in the Show-Me State.
OneMissouri is committed to research, education, advocacy, and policy development on behalf of all Missourians.
Top Graphic Credit: UJaffa