Poverty imposes far-reaching hardships, not only on the poor but also on all who share their communities. Virginia can point to one of the lowest poverty rates in the nation — it was ranked 9th lowest in 2004 — and it continues to work to make education and opportunity available to its at-risk population.
Why is This Important?
Poverty has a significant impact on individuals and society at large. Children who live in poverty are likely to suffer from poor nutrition in infancy, experience emotional distress, and have an increased chance of academic failure and teenage pregnancy. Adult men and women who live in poverty are at a high risk of violence. Poverty can also affect seniors' ability to obtain health care and prescription medication or to care for themselves, given their health care costs.
How is Virginia Doing?
In 2005, Virginia had the eighth lowest poverty rate in the nation. During 2005, 10 percent of Virginia families fell below the federal poverty level. While this rate is an improvement over Virginia's 11.3 percent poverty rate of a decade ago, the general rise in poverty since 2001 suggests the state may be moving back toward higher poverty rates. Among Virginia's peers in 2005, Maryland had a lower rate of 8.2, while North Carolina and Tennessee both had higher rates of poverty at 15.1 and 15.5 percent respectively. The national average was 13.3 percent in 2005. New Hampshire had the lowest poverty rate at 7.5 percent.
In 2003, the Southwest Region had the highest percentage of families living below the poverty level (15.7 percent) of any region in the state, followed by Southside (15.6 percent) and Eastern (13.4 percent). At the other end of the scale, the Northern Region (5.4 percent) had the lowest percentage of families living below the poverty level, followed by Central (10.1 percent), and Valley (10.2 percent).
What Influences Poverty?
As with personal income, the two largest factors affecting poverty are educational attainment and economic opportunity.
What is the State's Role?
Traditionally, the primary role of government in addressing this issue has been to provide a social safety net that mitigates the impact of poverty. Since the mid-1990s, however, welfare reform efforts at the state and federal level have changed the focus of this effort to "welfare to work," where those in need are provided temporary assistance and access to resources that will enable them to become self-supporting. This is accomplished through programs like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, food stamps, Medicaid and various workforce initiatives. In addition to temporary assistance and workforce training for those in poverty, the state can reduce long-term poverty rates by enhancing general education and providing a good business climate — two of the key factors that affect long-term poverty rates.
Data Definitions and Sources
U.S. Census Bureau
Localities, State, US: 1995-2003
States, US: 2004, 2005