Tuesday, June 4, 2019

40 Years of Poverty Rate Trends in Rural America

The third major economic indicator that was examined in The Adirondack Park and Rural America: Economic and Population Trends 1970-2010 was changes in the poverty rate. In 2010, a family of four with an annual income of $22,050 or less was considered to be living in poverty. The poverty rate of a region is a key indicator of overall economic health.

From 1970 to 2010, the overall poverty rate rose significantly in New York State from 8.0% to 14.9%. Across the U.S., the poverty rate rose from 10.4% to 14.9%. All Americans should be alarmed about the increase in poverty rates across the country in 2010 and about the state of a country where almost one out of every six people lives in poverty.

In this report we aggregated the data of the 61 Adirondack Park Towns that are 100% within the Blue Line in order to compare Adirondack communities with other areas in the U.S. The purpose was to see if Adirondack communities stood out in any way from other places in trends of leading economic and population indicators from 1970 to 2010. In 2010, the 61 Park Towns had just over 100,000 residents, 77.4% of the Park’s estimated population of 130,000. An overview of the report is provided here. An explanation of the methods used is provided here.

In general, rural areas in New York State and the U.S. did not experience overall poverty rate increases commensurate with those of New York and the U.S. The 61 Adirondack Park Towns saw an increase of 2.0 percentage points, from 10.3% to 12.3%, and the 31 Adirondack Park Split Towns (those around the Park’s boundary that are split by the Blue Line) saw an increase of 1.8 percentage points, from 9.8% to 11.6%. The 47 Rural New York towns with a similar population density as the 61 Park Towns also increased by 2 percentage points, from 10.4% to 12.4%.

An analysis of poverty rate trends was useful for evaluating differences between regions, especially when analyzed with a range of other economic indicators, such as median household income and per capita income. The two tables below show the change in poverty rates across New York, the U.S., and Rural America over a 40-year time frame.

How did the Park Towns’ 2.0 percentage point growth in its poverty rate from 1970 to 2010 compare with other areas? From 1970 to 2010, the Park Towns’ growth in its poverty rate was lower than 60% of the towns, boroughs and cities in New York State, areas with 80% of the state’s population. The Park Towns had a lower growth than that of 41% of U.S. counties, areas with 74% of the U.S. population.

How did the Park Towns’ 2.0 percentage point growth in its poverty rate from 1970 to 2010 compare with other rural areas? From 1970 to 2010, the Park Towns’ growth in its poverty rate was lower than that of 36% of Rural America counties, areas with over 49% of the population of Rural America. Closer to home, the Park Towns had a lower growth in its poverty rate than that of 70% of rural counties in the Northeast U.S., areas with 76% of the population of the Rural Northeast.

In comparisons with Rural America it’s important to note that the major rural areas studied in this report started in 1970 with much higher poverty rates of 17.2% and 18.8% and by 2010 had leveled off or slightly decreased to 17.7% and 17.1%. The 1,941 counties classified by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) as rural/non-metropolitan counties had a poverty rate of 17.2% in 1970 and increased slightly to 17.7% by 2010. The 1,333 low population density counties in the U.S. with a population density similar to the 14 people per square mile of the 61 Park Towns had a poverty rate of 18.8% in 1970 and dropped to 17.1% by 2010. Despite this leveling off, rural poverty rates were much higher at 17.7% and 17.1% than the national poverty rate of 14.9%.

An examination of the Northeast U.S. counties, from Pennsylvania to Maine, found that the 80 USDA rural counties in the Northeast saw their poverty rate increase from 1970 to 2010 by 4.5 percentage points from 8.8% to 13.3% and the 15 Rural Northeast counties with a similar population density as Park Towns increased by 2.7 percentage points, from 12.7% to 15.4%.

In 2010, the Park Towns’ poverty rate stood at 12.3%. How did Adirondack Park communities stack up with other areas? The poverty rate of Adirondack communities in 2010 was lower than that of 41% of the towns, boroughs and cities in New York, areas with 58% of the state’s population. It was lower than that of 72% of U.S. counties, home to 68% of the U.S. population.

When compared to Rural America, Adirondack communities fared better. The 61 Park Towns in 2010 had a lower poverty rate than that of 77% of the counties in Rural America, home to 81% of the Rural America population. Closer to home, the Park Towns had a lower poverty rate in 2010 than that of 63% of the rural counties in the Northeast U.S., home to 63% of the rural population in the northeast.

The sheer geography of the land areas involved is important to note. The 2.0 percentage point growth in the poverty rate between 1970 and 2010 of the 61 Park Towns was lower than that of 543 out of 904 towns, etc., in New York State, 1,277 out of 3,090 counties in the U.S., and 694 out of 1,939 counties in Rural America. The 2010, the poverty rate of Adirondack communities was lower than that of 373 out of 906 towns, etc., in New York State, 2,222 out of 3,096 counties in the U.S., and 1,498 out of 1,941 counties in Rural America.

One of the main purposes of The Adirondack Park and Rural America report was to see if the economic experience of Adirondack communities was fundamentally different than that of other areas in the U.S., especially rural areas, during the last four decades. This was a time when environmental protections were strengthened in the Adirondack Park through the creation of the Adirondack Park Agency and a sustained period of land protection. There is nothing in long-term poverty rate trends from 1970 to 2010 that showed that the Park Towns experienced some kind of penalty or lagged behind New York, the U.S. or Rural America.

As mentioned at the top of this article we should all be alarmed about living in an Adirondack Park community where our poverty rate increased to 12.3% in 2010 and a state and country where the poverty rate stood at 14.9%. The increase in the overall poverty rate in the Park Towns to 12.3% is a worrisome trend. The high poverty rate in many areas of the U.S. and New York is one of the cruelest realities of American life in the first decades of the 21stcentury. This is an important indicator that bears close watching in the years ahead.

An analysis of long-term poverty rate trends from 1970 to 2010 showed that the experiences of Adirondack communities did not stand out in any way during these years, despite the growth of environmental protections for the region. The reality is that the 61 Adirondack Park towns studied in this report, a group which had 77.4% of the Park’s population in 2010, experienced growth in their poverty rate similar to other rural areas in New York and lower than nearby rural areas across the Northeast U.S. From 1970 to 2010, the Park Towns’ poverty rate increased at a lower rate than that of the majority of New York State, the U.S. and half of Rural America. In 2010, the poverty rate in the Park Towns was lower than that of the areas with the majority of the population of New York State (58%), the U.S. (68%) and Rural America (81%).

The next article in this series looks at long-term employment trends.

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Peter Bauer is the Executive Director of Protect the Adirondacks. He has been working in various capacities on Adirondack Park environmental issues since the mid-1980s, including stints as the Executive Director of the Residents' Committee to Protect the Adirondacks and FUND for Lake George as well as on the staff of the Commission on the Adirondacks in the Twenty-First Century. He was the co-founder of the Adirondack Lake Assessment Program (ALAP) in 1998, which has collected long-term water quality data on more than 75 Adirondack lakes and ponds. He has testified before the State Legislature, successfully advocated to pass legislation and budget items, authored numerous articles, op-eds, and reports such as "20% in 2023: An Assessment of the New York State 30 by 30 Act" (2023), "The Adirondack Park and Rural America: Economic and Population Trends 1970-2010" (2019), "The Myth of Quiet, Motor-free Waters in the Adirondack Park" (2013), and "Rutted and Ruined: ATV Damage on the Adirondack Forest Preserve" (2003) and "Growth in the Adirondack Park: Analysis of Rates and Patterns of Development" (2001). He also worked at Adirondack Life Magazine. He served as Chair of the Town of Lake George Zoning Board of Appeals and has served on numerous advisory boards for management of the Adirondack Park and Forest Preserve. Peter lives in Blue Mountain Lake with his wife, has two grown children out in the world, and enjoys a wide variety of outdoor recreational activities throughout the Adirondacks, and is a member of the Blue Mountain Lake volunteer fire department.Follow Protect the Adirondacks on Facebook and Threads.

7 Responses

  1. Kyle Scott says:

    The great American scam where your worth as a person is measured by the amount of Federal Reserve Notes you generate. The author should stop to consider that many people who are defined as “living in poverty” are not only there by choice, living a different lifestyle than the commuter class & living as well or better, by their own devices & refusing to be part of the buy more, buy more, materialistic world. I can live as well or better than most people on 1/2 the money because, I can do for myself & couldn’t care less about “keeping up with the Jones'”.
    Half of the stuff you buy at Walmart, Ikea and Garbage Depot, I either just have no need for or can make my own. Don’t need to buy a kitchen table/chairs/cabinets, I can make my own. Don’t need to pay a mechanic to fix my truck, I have tools and knowledge. Don’t need the pharmaceutical pushing MD’s, I have a forest full of medicinal plants. Don’t need oil from the Middle East to heat my home when it’s a)not four times bigger than I need & b)surrounded by firewood.
    Some people can’t get by ten seconds without Wall Streets endless stream of plastic products. Other people just won’t drink the Kool-aid, literally, & live just fine without Wall Street & corporate america. At least until the Government Corporation gets through criminalizing every last thing we do and taxing us into oblivion so the politicians can live like monarchy.

    • John Warren says:

      Current Federal poverty thresholds:

      Family of 1 – $12,490
      Family of 2 – $16,910
      Family of 3 – $21,330

      Average rent in Chestertown for a studio apartment: $700 (let’s assume that’s inclusive of heat and electric, which it probably is not).

      $700 x 12 = $8,400

      $12,490 – $8,400 = $4,090 or $340 per month (about $85 a week) for food; gas, oil and occasional new tires, registration and insurance required to get to work; clothing, and whatever else you absolutely need to survive – forget internet (which you’re obviously using, but must be walking to the library to use), and a phone which you can’t afford.

      Since you believe this is twice the money you need, you’re obviously full of it.

    • Paul says:

      And the other “half of the stuff” was made by somebody else for you. The truck the tools etc. so you are still supporting your so called – “Wall Street and Corporate America”.

    • JohnL says:

      You sound angry Kyle. I’m wondering why, because you seemingly have everything you need to be happy. We should all be so lucky. You remind me a little of Charlie S. He’s always saying how he can make do on less, yet he too, always sounds like he’s pi**ed off. We all have different physical and spiritual needs. Nobody is wrong as long as we’re happy and not infringing on someone else’s happiness.

      • Paul says:

        Also these are just a guide. Some people also need more. Maybe they have an illness that requires one of those medicines that saves their lives that they can’t go out into the woods and just dig up!

  2. Robert OBrien says:

    Why don’t you compare your “poverty rates” with “inflation rates?.
    When I began working in the 1950s anyone making $10,000 a year was considered well-off and new cars didnt cost 20-30 thousand dollars, etc etc…..ad nauseum

  3. While I think this study has some value, I also think you are drawing unwarranted conclusions from limited data, and there is a rather glaring logical fallacy in your research design. The report states, “If there were negative economic impacts from environmental protections in the Adirondack Park, the region would stand out as significantly different from other rural areas in trends for median household income, per capita income, poverty rate, and rates of employment and self-employment.” That might be the case if there were no environmental regulations anyplace else in the vastness that is “other rural areas,” but of course that is not the case.

    I am also dubious about any assessment of Adirondack economic health that does not address the problem of gentrification, which is driving the working class from many Adirondack places but is a spatially uneven phenomenon. The condition of poverty has not improved if poor people have simply moved out. It has, in that case, just been displaced. Gentrification tends to make a community’s “economic performance” look great on paper – look, median income went up! What it masks are the workers who have been uprooted by high cost of housing, or – as is more common in the Adirondack case – the lack of affordable housing altogether.

    I’m also a bit leery of the validity of the Adirondack Park as a single unit of economic analysis. While it is of course true that the Park is governed by an overarching set of laws, other factors, especially commuting distance to urban areas (and how those specific urban areas themselves are faring) make our communities vastly different places. Even wholly within the Park, Essex and Hamilton Counties, for example, are hardly of a piece, demographically or otherwise. The same set of legislation may have a different impact upon different places due to confounders that are not considered here.

    Most troubling though, is this: “The purpose of this report is to examine the belief, long held by many across the Adirondacks and in state government, that environmental protections have negatively impacted Adirondack communities.” That’s a pretty facile way (and apparently unsupported in the report) to paint whatever you deem the “opposition” to be (and sounds more like attitudes in the early 1970s, when the APA was just getting on its feet). If you set up a straw man, it’s hardly surprising when you are able to easily knock it down.

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