North Carolina has 20 cities that have the most people living in poverty. According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of people living in poverty in the U.S. decreased for the fifth consecutive year. Roughly 37 million people, or 11.4 percent of the total population, were living below the poverty line in 2019. Even during the coronavirus pandemic, poverty rates fell due to federal aid. Unemployment benefits kept 5.5 million people from falling into poverty, according to Supplemental Poverty Measure data.

To determine who is in poverty, the Census Bureau uses a set of money income thresholds-income before taxes and excluding capital gains and benefits such as public housing, Medicaid, and food stamps-that vary by family size and composition. If a family’s income is less than the family’s threshold, then every member of that family is considered to be poor. According to many experts, the poverty measure in the U.S. is both outdated and incomplete. Considering the implications of falling within or outside of these thresholds – such as whether you qualify for various federal assistance programs – the formula is staggeringly simple.

These thresholds are determined by tripling the cost of the most basic food plan in 1963 – the year they were created – and adjusting for family size and annual inflation. Today, the poverty threshold for a family of four is roughly $26,000 annually; the threshold for an individual is $13,000. The lived experience of economic hardship is not the same for everyone, nor does it conform to a calculation. These thresholds do not reflect the fact that basic needs extend beyond the cost of food alone. There are vast differences in the cost of living based on geography, child care, transportation, medical care, and taxes. Additionally, the definition of a family is often out of touch with modern society and households.

Because of these factors, poverty looks different from state to state and even from city to city. Stacker compiled a list of 20 cities in North Carolina where the most live below the poverty line using data from the U.S. Census Bureau. Cities with a population of at least 10,000 individuals are ranked by percent of individuals living below the poverty line in 2019. You can see the ranking from highest to lowest below. 

  • #20. Eden

    • Percent of individuals living below the poverty line: 22.6%
    • Total individuals living below the poverty line: 3,355
    • Total employed individuals living below the poverty line: 663
    • Percent of individuals under 18 living below the poverty line: 35.3%
    • Total individuals under 18 years old living below the poverty line: 1,117
    • Median household income: $34,917
  • #19. Elizabeth City

    • Percent of individuals living below the poverty line: 22.8%
    • Total individuals living below the poverty line: 3,606
    • Total employed individuals living below the poverty line: 779
    • Percent of individuals under 18 living below the poverty line: 32.3%
    • Total individuals under 18 years old living below the poverty line: 1,339
    • Median household income: $38,917
  • #18. Albemarle

    • Percent of individuals living below the poverty line: 23.0%
    • Total individuals living below the poverty line: 3,547
    • Total employed individuals living below the poverty line: 709
    • Percent of individuals under 18 living below the poverty line: 42.7%
    • Total individuals under 18 years old living below the poverty line: 1,555
    • Median household income: $44,269
  • #17. Wilson

    • Percent of individuals living below the poverty line: 23.2%
    • Total individuals living below the poverty line: 11,112
    • Total employed individuals living below the poverty line: 2,026
    • Percent of individuals under 18 living below the poverty line: 36.1%
    • Total individuals under 18 years old living below the poverty line: 4,060
    • Median household income: $42,036
  • #16. Lincolnton

    • Percent of individuals living below the poverty line: 23.6%
    • Total individuals living below the poverty line: 2,485
    • Total employed individuals living below the poverty line: 671
    • Percent of individuals under 18 living below the poverty line: 38.0%
    • Total individuals under 18 years old living below the poverty line: 934
    • Median household income: $37,027
  • #15. Reidsville

    • Percent of individuals living below the poverty line: 24.3%
    • Total individuals living below the poverty line: 3,303
    • Total employed individuals living below the poverty line: 719
    • Percent of individuals under 18 living below the poverty line: 38.2%
    • Total individuals under 18 years old living below the poverty line: 1,036
    • Median household income: $32,339
  • #14. Morganton

    • Percent of individuals living below the poverty line: 24.4%
    • Total individuals living below the poverty line: 3,821
    • Total employed individuals living below the poverty line: 679
    • Percent of individuals under 18 living below the poverty line: 41.8%
    • Total individuals under 18 years old living below the poverty line: 1,606
    • Median household income: $42,137
  • #13. Kings Mountain

    • Percent of individuals living below the poverty line: 25.6%
    • Total individuals living below the poverty line: 2,777
    • Total employed individuals living below the poverty line: 213
    • Percent of individuals under 18 living below the poverty line: 42.5%
    • Total individuals under 18 years old living below the poverty line: 1,246
    • Median household income: $39,195
  • #12. Roanoke Rapids

    • Percent of individuals living below the poverty line: 25.7%
    • Total individuals living below the poverty line: 3,745
    • Total employed individuals living below the poverty line: 716
    • Percent of individuals under 18 living below the poverty line: 35.1%
    • Total individuals under 18 years old living below the poverty line: 1,379
    • Median household income: $37,575
  • #11. Graham

    • Percent of individuals living below the poverty line: 25.9%
    • Total individuals living below the poverty line: 3,824
    • Total employed individuals living below the poverty line: 769
    • Percent of individuals under 18 living below the poverty line: 42.9%
    • Total individuals under 18 years old living below the poverty line: 1,651
    • Median household income: $36,310
  • #10. Shelby

    • Percent of individuals living below the poverty line: 25.9%
    • Total individuals living below the poverty line: 5,172
    • Total employed individuals living below the poverty line: 855
    • Percent of individuals under 18 living below the poverty line: 42.0%
    • Total individuals under 18 years old living below the poverty line: 1,823
    • Median household income: $38,559
  • #9. Goldsboro

    • Percent of individuals living below the poverty line: 26.1%
    • Total individuals living below the poverty line: 8,540
    • Total employed individuals living below the poverty line: 1,784
    • Percent of individuals under 18 living below the poverty line: 42.4%
    • Total individuals under 18 years old living below the poverty line: 3,053
    • Median household income: $34,083
  • #8. Lexington

    • Percent of individuals living below the poverty line: 27.0%
    • Total individuals living below the poverty line: 4,779
    • Total employed individuals living below the poverty line: 955
    • Percent of individuals under 18 living below the poverty line: 36.9%
    • Total individuals under 18 years old living below the poverty line: 1,640
    • Median household income: $29,938
  • #7. Tarboro

    • Percent of individuals living below the poverty line: 27.5%
    • Total individuals living below the poverty line: 2,837
    • Total employed individuals living below the poverty line: 776
    • Percent of individuals under 18 living below the poverty line: 43.6%
    • Total individuals under 18 years old living below the poverty line: 979
    • Median household income: $29,738
  • #6. Henderson

    • Percent of individuals living below the poverty line: 27.7%
    • Total individuals living below the poverty line: 4,025
    • Total employed individuals living below the poverty line: 720
    • Percent of individuals under 18 living below the poverty line: 39.8%
    • Total individuals under 18 years old living below the poverty line: 1,510
    • Median household income: $31,408
  • #5. Kinston

    • Percent of individuals living below the poverty line: 27.8%
    • Total individuals living below the poverty line: 5,431
    • Total employed individuals living below the poverty line: 874
    • Percent of individuals under 18 living below the poverty line: 49.0%
    • Total individuals under 18 years old living below the poverty line: 2,028
    • Median household income: $33,066
  • #4. Greenville

    • Percent of individuals living below the poverty line: 30.2%
    • Total individuals living below the poverty line: 25,890
    • Total employed individuals living below the poverty line: 9,148
    • Percent of individuals under 18 living below the poverty line: 32.6%
    • Total individuals under 18 years old living below the poverty line: 5,351
    • Median household income: $40,875
  • #3. Lumberton

    • Percent of individuals living below the poverty line: 32.4%
    • Total individuals living below the poverty line: 6,315
    • Total employed individuals living below the poverty line: 1,061
    • Percent of individuals under 18 living below the poverty line: 46.0%
    • Total individuals under 18 years old living below the poverty line: 2,505
    • Median household income: $36,935
  • #2. Laurinburg

    • Percent of individuals living below the poverty line: 33.8%
    • Total individuals living below the poverty line: 4,796
    • Total employed individuals living below the poverty line: 691
    • Percent of individuals under 18 living below the poverty line: 52.0%
    • Total individuals under 18 years old living below the poverty line: 1,929
    • Median household income: $30,862
  • #1. Boone

    • Percent of individuals living below the poverty line: 53.0%
    • Total individuals living below the poverty line: 7,131
    • Total employed individuals living below the poverty line: 2,841
    • Percent of individuals under 18 living below the poverty line: 36.0%
    • Total individuals under 18 years old living below the poverty line: 385
    • Median household income: $22,434