In 2007, James B. Holt published an interesting article on “The Topography of Poverty in the United States” based on cartographic analysis (I have reproduced two of his maps here). His concluding map posits a “continental poverty divide,” with most areas of entrenched poverty found in the southeast and south-center and most areas of low poverty found in the northeast and north-center, but with a number of outliers found on both sides of the divide. Holt’s maps, like others of the same phenomenon, show several distinct zones of deep poverty: the Appalachian coal country of eastern Kentucky and West Virginia; the so-called Black Belt, originally named for its dark soils, that was once the major cotton-plantation zone; the heavily Hispanic areas of southern Texas and New Mexico; and scattered counties containing by American Indian Reservations in Arizona, New Mexico, the Dakotas, and Montana.
This week, the Pew Research Center published an equally interesting report entitled “How the Geography of U.S. Poverty Has Shifted Since 1960,” by Jens Manuel Krogstad. Krogstad’s map and analysis indicate a significant weakening of Holt’s “continental poverty divide.” The poorest macro-region, the South has seen the largest decline in poverty, while the Northeast has experienced little change. Although the Midwest showed an intermediate level of poverty decline, a number of counties marked by Holt as “very low poverty (concentrated)” in Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, and India are shown by Krogstad as having experienced an increase in poverty. Some of the largest declines, on the other hand, are shown as having occurred in some of the country’s poorest areas, including a number of counties in the Black Belt, eastern Kentucky, and southern Texas. The most concentrated zone of poverty reduction is evidently located in northern New Mexico, an area called the “Hispano Homeland” by geographer Richard Nostrand, which has been mostly Spanish speaking for several hundred years.
The biggest surprise to me on Krogstad’ map is the large zone of poverty increase in far northern California, southern and eastern Oregon, and eastern Washington. Unfortunately, it is impossible to tell how extreme this increase has been, as all counties are placed on the “0-20%” category. But that said, it might not be coincidental that far northern California, southern Oregon, and eastern Washington are all marked by active state-secession movements.