Local towns among poorest in the West

Plainview, Strathmore, Linnell Camp and Richgrove make web site’s list of the 25 communities with the highest rates of poverty

TULARE COUNTY – It remains uncertain if poverty rates will rise or fall when the COVID-19 pandemic is eventually relegated to just another virus, but one thing is for sure, rural towns in Tulare County will remain some of the poorest places in the nation.

Tulare County was home to four of the 25 “Poorest Places in the West” compiled by 24/7 Wall St., an independent financial news and opinion web site. The web site reviewed the poverty rate in 20,000 places—including cities, towns and unincorporated areas known as Census-designated places (CDP)—with at least 500 residents using data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2019 American Community Survey. The ranking took into account places where less than a quarter of the population was enrolled in college or graduate school, or had a post-secondary degree, with the highest poverty rates

The median household income in Tulare County is about $49,000, nearly $20,000 lower than the national average, leaving about 19% of the population living below the poverty, almost double the national average. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services currently defines the federal poverty line at $12,880 for individuals, $26,500 for families of four in the continental U.S. (the rates are slightly higher for Alaska and Hawaii). According to MIT’s Living Wage Calculator, that amount is far below the income needed to afford basic necessities such as housing, food, child care, medical and transportation. MIT said those numbers for Tulare County are three times higher than the federal poverty line.

Topping the list of poorest places in the county was Plainview, a town of about 900 people, which ranked No. 232 of more than 29,000 places. In 2019, nearly two-thirds (64.8%) of the unincorporated community was living below the poverty line with a median household income of $20,556. Plainview’s neighbor to the east, Strathmore, came in at No. 13 on the list. The town of about 3,000 people between Lindsay and Porterville ranked No. 303 in the nation with six in 10 residents living below the poverty line. The median household income was $25,500.

Linnell Camp, the Dust Bowl era labor camp turned unincorporated community, ranked No. 15 on the list and 337 in the nation. The town of about 900 people just west of Farmersville had a median household income of just under $20,000, leaving more than 58% of its residents impoverished.

Richgrove came in at No. 20 on the list and 411 in the nation. The unincorporated community of 2,300 people just north of Tulare-Kern County line had 55% of its residents living in poverty with a median household income of about $21,000.

“Federal stimulus efforts might well help such places, but they will doubtless remain among the country’s most economically vulnerable locations,” the author writes.

Poverty rates have been volatile in Tulare County over the last few decades. According to the American Community Survey, poverty rates here significantly increased from 2009 to 2014 and then significantly decreased from 2014 to 2019. Cities like Visalia, Bakersfield and Fresno don’t have much reason to worry as census data shows poverty rates continue to decline in most metropolitan areas, but the opposite is true of smaller, rural cities and towns.

California was home to six of the 25 poorest places, which was the third most for any Western state behind New Mexico with seven and Arizona with 10.

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