Hunger, poverty and homelessness affect every nation — even the richest and most powerful. According to Feeding America, food insecurity plagues every U.S. county, with 35 million individuals lacking access to adequate food even before the COVID-19 pandemic. That number could grow to more than 50 million due to the pandemic, though.
In 2019, 10.5% of the U.S. population lived in poverty. In the absence of more affordable housing or accommodations provided by relatives or friends, many people must take to the streets or shelters. According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, nearly 568,000 people — many of them children — had been homeless at one point in January 2019. As we deal with the economic damage caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s important both help our existing impoverished population and make sure we minimize the number of new people who fall into poverty.
On the heels of our report on the most charitable states, WalletHub compared more than 180 U.S. cities based on 28 key indicators of economic disadvantage, such as child poverty, food insecurity and uninsured rates.
Neediest Cities in America
(1 = Neediest)
|City||Total Score||‘Economic Well-Being’||‘Health & Safety’|
|8||Los Angeles, CA||56.84||13||22|
|9||New Orleans, LA||56.71||17||15|
|12||St. Louis, MO||56.07||34||4|
|17||Las Cruces, NM||54.09||25||28|
|23||Little Rock, AR||53.12||52||7|
|24||San Bernardino, CA||53.02||27||39|
|29||Baton Rouge, LA||52.13||29||47|
|30||Corpus Christi, TX||52.02||58||11|
|33||New York, NY||51.61||15||118|
|43||San Francisco, CA||49.80||57||20|
|44||Fort Smith, AR||49.80||96||9|
|51||Long Beach, CA||49.54||33||106|
|54||New Haven, CT||48.61||26||134|
|59||San Antonio, TX||47.79||79||33|
|60||Fort Lauderdale, FL||47.44||53||84|
|62||El Paso, TX||47.28||80||41|
|64||Kansas City, MO||47.22||77||46|
|70||Newport News, VA||46.55||61||88|
|71||Las Vegas, NV||46.47||67||74|
|75||Oklahoma City, OK||46.23||103||36|
|81||Santa Ana, CA||45.68||70||95|
|86||St. Petersburg, FL||45.15||111||48|
|89||Jersey City, NJ||44.96||104||61|
|92||St. Paul, MN||44.76||55||132|
|94||Grand Prairie, TX||44.73||120||49|
|95||North Las Vegas, NV||44.61||76||108|
|99||Grand Rapids, MI||44.26||106||82|
|104||Garden Grove, CA||44.00||83||113|
|109||Salt Lake City, UT||43.39||147||37|
|116||Fort Worth, TX||42.75||132||79|
|121||Moreno Valley, CA||42.22||87||139|
|123||Santa Rosa, CA||42.10||72||154|
|125||Rapid City, SD||41.84||146||91|
|126||West Valley City, UT||41.80||148||69|
|127||Fort Wayne, IN||41.76||113||124|
|129||Colorado Springs, CO||41.45||143||92|
|135||Santa Clarita, CA||40.59||62||174|
|140||Des Moines, IA||39.63||126||142|
|143||Port St. Lucie, FL||39.25||141||135|
|147||San Jose, CA||38.38||107||172|
|150||San Diego, CA||37.78||131||163|
|151||Pembroke Pines, FL||37.31||151||141|
|154||Chula Vista, CA||36.89||124||176|
|158||Sioux Falls, SD||35.66||163||148|
|160||Cedar Rapids, IA||34.46||167||153|
|161||Cape Coral, FL||34.44||157||158|
|165||Rancho Cucamonga, CA||34.09||162||161|
|167||Virginia Beach, VA||33.34||159||173|
|173||Huntington Beach, CA||32.60||156||178|
|179||South Burlington, VT||29.95||178||167|
|180||Overland Park, KS||28.98||182||137|
|182||Pearl City, HI||27.36||180||175|
Ask the Experts
We asked a panel of experts to share their insight and advice regarding the changes and challenges experienced by needy groups and those who desire to help. Click on the experts’ profiles to read their bios and responses to the following key questions:
- How has the social makeup of people in need — in terms of age, race, gender, etc. — changed in recent decades?
- What are the main challenges facing low-income families today?
- Which policy interventions have proven successful in helping families achieve economic independence? Which ones have failed?
- How can charities and nonprofits most effectively serve the poor?
- How do the economic-mobility prospects of low-income Americans compare with their counterparts in other rich democracies?
- What should be the main focus of local authorities when outlining a strategy to help people in need during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Ask the Experts
In order to determine the cities with the neediest populations, WalletHub compared 182 cities — including the 150 most populated U.S. cities, plus at least two of the most populated cities in each state — across two key dimensions, “Economic Well-Being” and “Health & Safety.”
We evaluated those dimensions using 28 relevant metrics, which are listed below with their corresponding weights. Each metric was graded on a 100-point scale, with a score of 100 representing the highest level of economic disadvantage. Data for metrics marked with an asterisk (*) were available at the state level only.
Finally, we determined each city’s weighted average across all metrics to calculate its overall score and used the resulting scores to rank-order our sample. In determining our sample, we considered only the city proper in each case and excluded cities in the surrounding metro area.
Economic Well-Being - Total Points: 60
- Child Poverty Rate: Triple Weight (~7.83 Points)
- Adult Poverty Rate: Triple Weight (~7.83 Points)
- Unemployment Rate: Full Weight (~2.61 Points)
- Underemployment Rate: Full Weight (~2.61 Points)
- Homelessness Rate: Triple Weight (~7.83 Points)
Note: This metric measures the number of homeless persons per 1,000 residents.
- Presence of Homeless Criminalization Laws: Full Weight (~2.61 Points)
Note: This is a binary metric that considers the presence or absence of such legislation.
- Change in Family Homelessness (2019 vs 2018): Full Weight (~2.61 Points)
- Well-Being Index: Full Weight (~2.61 Points)
Note: This metric refers to the Gallup-Sharecare Well-Being Index.
- Consumer Bankruptcy Rate: Half Weight (~1.30 Points)
Note: This metric measures the number of nonbusiness bankruptcy filings per capita.
- Foreclosure Rate: Full Weight (~2.61 Points)
- Share of Owner-Occupied Housing Units Spending at Least 35% of Their Household Income on Housing: Full Weight (~2.61 Points)
- Share of Delinquent Debtors: Full Weight (~2.61 Points)
- Median Credit Score: Full Weight (~2.61 Points)
- High School Dropout Rate: Full Weight (~2.61 Points)
- Undereducated Rate: Full Weight (~2.61 Points)
Note: This measures the share of population aged 25 and over who did not graduate from high school.
- Share of Children Eligible for Free or Reduced-Price Lunch: Full Weight (~2.61 Points)
- “Economic Security” Ranking: Half* Weight (~1.30 Points)
Note: This metric measures the state’s policy potential to improve the economic security of workers, families and retirees and is based on the Economic Security Scorecard produced by the WOW (Wider Opportunities for Women) nonprofit organization.
- Economic Mobility: Full Weight (~2.61 Points)
Health & Safety - Total Points: 40
- Uninsured Rate: Full Weight (~3.64 Points)
Note: This metric measures the share of residents without health insurance coverage.
- Food Insecurity Rate: Double Weight (~7.27 Points)
- Share of Homes with Inadequate Plumbing: Full Weight (~3.64 Points)
Note: This metric measures the share of occupied housing units without complete plumbing facilities.
- Share of Homes with Inadequate Kitchens: Full Weight (~3.64 Points)
Note: This metric measures the share of occupied housing units without complete kitchen facilities.
- Share of Severely Overcrowded Homes: Full Weight (~3.64 Points)
Note: This metric measures the share of occupied housing units that are considered “severely overcrowded”, meaning more than 1.5 persons occupy each room.
- Share of Offline Homes: Full Weight (~3.64 Points)
Note: This metric measures the share of households lacking a computer and broadband Internet service.
- Share of Adults Who Needed to See a Doctor but Couldn’t: Full Weight (~3.64 Points)
Note: This metric refers to the share of adults who needed to see a doctor in the past year, but couldn’t because of costs.
- Share of Depressed Adults: Full Weight (~3.64 Points)
Note: This metric measures the share of adults who were diagnosed with depression.
- Suicide Rate: Full Weight (~3.64 Points)
- Crime Rate: Full Weight (~3.64 Points)
Sources: Data used to create this ranking were collected from the U.S. Census Bureau, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development, Chmura Economics & Analytics, County Health Rankings, National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, National Alliance to End Homelessness, Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, Equality of Opportunity Project, Feeding America, Wider Opportunities for Women, ATTOM Data Solutions (RealtyTrac), Gallup-Healthways and TransUnion.