More than 1/3 of S.C. residents live in high-poverty areas

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In last week’s Statehouse Report, Editor and Publisher Andy Brack focused on the recent census results that reveal South Carolina has had one of the largest increases in the percentage of people living in high-poverty areas in the nation. He spoke with SC Appleseed Director Sue Berkowtiz to help unpack the numbers.

July 3, 2014 — Poverty is creeping closer to South Carolinians, according to a new report from the U.S. Census.

More than one in three people across the state — 35.2 percent — live in a neighborhood or community in which at least 20 percent of people live in poverty. Just 10 years ago in the Palmetto State, one in five people — 20.8 percent of South Carolinians — lived in these “poverty areas,” according to the June 30 American Community Survey report, Changes in Areas with Concentrated Poverty: 2000 to 2010.”

Sue Berkowitz, director of the S.C. Appleseed Legal Justice Center, said she wasn’t surprised by the new report.

“As a state, we have not put resources into goods and services that can help people in need,” she said. “As our state leaders boast about cutting people off of welfare and put them into low-wage jobs, we have seen our poverty rate tick up.”

Half of state’s counties high in poverty areas

The number of South Carolinians who lived in poverty areas doubled from 806,795 people in 2000 to 1.6 million in 2010, according to the report. The Census Bureau defines “poverty areas” as census tracts (places of 1,200 to 8,000 people) in which at least 20 percent of residents live below the poverty level.

Of particular concern now are eight South Carolina counties — Allendale, Bamberg, Barnwell, Chesterfield, Dillon, Hampton, Lee and Marlboro — that are home to residents in which 80 percent or more live in poverty areas.   Other counties:

  • 15 counties have 50 percent to 79.9 percent of residents living in poverty areas.
  • 13 counties have poverty areas that are home to 25 percent to 49.9 percent of people.
  • Eight counties have 10 percent to 24.9 percent of people living in poverty areas.
  • Two South Carolina counties — Calhoun and McCormick — have less than 10 percent people who live in poverty areas.

Poverty areas spread in S.C.

Not everyone who lives in a poverty area lives in poverty, as highlighted in raw numbers:


During the 1990s, the percentage of Americans living in poverty areas fell from 20% to 18.1 %.

But between 2000 and 2010, the percentage of people living in poverty areas grew to 25.7%.

During the decade of the 2000s, the number of people living in poverty areas grew by about 56%, while the total population grew 10%, according to the report.

Source: U.S. Census

  • Poverty: The average poverty rate from 2008 to 2012 for South Carolina was 17.6 percent, or about 814,000 people living  below poverty.
  • Poverty areas: At about the same time in 2010, some 1.6 million South Carolina lived in “poverty areas.”  Ten years earlier, half as many residents of the Palmetto State — 806,795 people — lived in poverty areas, according to the Census.

Unlike simple poverty statistics, poverty areas reflect parts of communities that are particularly vulnerable to and influenced by high rates of poverty.

Using “poverty area” as a measure of a community’s economic health may be more robust than looking at just the numbers of people who live below the federal poverty level. In 2010, for example, some 44.9 percent of Americans had incomes below the federal poverty level. But 77.4 million lived in poverty areas. Of those, 24 million have incomes below the poverty level.

“Researchers have found that living in communities with a large concentration of people in poverty adds burdens to low-income families,” noted the report’s author, Alemayehu Bishaw of the Census Bureau’s Poverty Statistics Branch. “Problems associated with living in poverty areas, such as higher crime rates, poor housing conditions and fewer job opportunities, are exacerbated when poor families live clustered in high-poverty neighborhoods.”

SC Appleseed’s take:

“The impact of poverty areas finds families going hungry without healthcare, poor/limited housing stock and no transportation to get to work and necessities of life. Our children are struggling to get an education as our political leaders fight over micro-managing schools and refuse to infuse the resources needed to help them learn. This leads to high dropout rates and hurts our ability to improve wage potential. Our unwillingness to have honest and brave discussions about what is needed has led to more people suffering and the decline of our per capita income.  This hurts everyone, regardless of income.” – Sue Berkowitz

By Andy Brack, Editor and Publisher of the Statehouse Report

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