family shopping at supermarket


Poverty imposes far-reaching hardships, not only on the poor but on all who share their communities. Virginia has a relatively low poverty rate -- it was ranked 9th in the nation in 2012 – but it, too, has been affected by recent trends, with more than 1 in 10 residents now living below federal poverty thresholds. Virginia continues to work to make education and opportunity available to its at-risk populations.

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 during infancy, experience emotional distress, and have an increased risk for academic failure and teenage pregnancy. Adult men and women who live in poverty are at high risk of poor health and violence. Poverty can also affect seniors' ability to care for themselves or to obtain prescription medication.

How is Virginia Doing?

Poverty Rates by State.  See text for explanation.

Virginia had the 9th lowest poverty rate in the nation in 2012 at 11.7 percent, a small increase from the year before. Due to the 2007-2009 recession and its prolonged high joblessness, poverty rates in Virginia have seen small but steady increases for the past six years. In fact, although many states have seen minor reductions across certain years, poverty rates on the whole have been increasing nationwide since the start of the decade.

Among Virginia's peers, Maryland had the lowest poverty rate in 2012 at 10.3 percent, while North Carolina and Tennessee both had considerably higher rates -- 18.0 and 17.9 percent, respectively. New Hampshire ranked top in the nation with a poverty rate of 10.0 percent. The national average held steady at 15.9 percent in 2012.

Poverty Rates by Virginia Region. See text for explanation.

In 2012 poverty rates again rose for every region except the Northern, Central, and Southside regions -- yet Southside still had the highest percentage (20.3%) of individuals living below the poverty level of any region in the state, followed by the Southwest (20.0%) region. With poverty levels of 16 percent each, the Eastern and West Central regions didn't fare much better. At the other end of the scale, the Northern region (6.5%) had the lowest percentage of individuals living below the poverty level, followed by the Central (12.4%) and Hampton Roads (13.2%) regions.

What Influences Poverty?

As with personal income, the two largest factors affecting poverty are educational attainment and economic opportunity. There is a strong and direct relationship between educational attainment and earnings and employability. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that in 2012 an adult (aged 25+) with a bachelor’s degree earned about 60 percent more than an adult with just a high school diploma and was only about half as likely to be unemployed. However, a good education is not enough. Workers also need the job opportunities and potential for upward mobility a healthy economy creates to reach their full earning potential.

What is the State's Role?

Traditionally, the primary role of government in addressing poverty has been to provide a social safety net that mitigates its impact. Since the mid-1990s, however, welfare reform efforts at the state and federal levels 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 (TANF), food stamps, Medicaid and various workforce initiatives.

In addition to these practical efforts, the state can reduce long-term poverty rates by enhancing general education and providing a good climate for business and employment growth -- two of the key factors that affect long-term poverty rates.

Page last modified February 10, 2014
Poverty Rates, by State Poverty Rates by Region

Data Definitions and Sources

State and U.S. (2005-2012)
U.S Census Bureau, American Communities Survey

Localities, State, and US
U.S. Census Bureau, Small Area Income & Poverty Estimates

Education level and income comparisons: Bureau of Labor and Statistics

The Census Bureau defined the poverty level for a single individual as $11,720 in 2012. Many government assistance programs use different poverty measures.

Starting in 2005, the American Community Survey was used to estimate poverty rates.  Previous years used the Annual Social and Economic Supplements of the Current Population Survey.

See the Data Sources and Updates Calendar for a detailed list of the data resources used for indicator measures on Virginia Performs.

At a Glance:
Poverty in Virginia

Performance Trend: Trend is worsening.
State Influence:  

National Ranking: In 2012 Virginia had the 9th lowest poverty rate (11.7%) in the country; the national average held steady at 15.9 percent. 

Virginia by Region: Despite an improved economy, poverty rates in 2012 again rose in most regions of Virginia.

Related Agency Measures
State Programs & Initiatives

Tax Credit Programs for Employers:  The Work Opportunity Tax Credit (aka Welfare to Work) is for private-sector employers who hire individuals from eligible target groups that have consistently faced significant barriers to employment, including military veterans. Learn more...

Child Support and Enforcement: Single parents (especially single mothers) are at high risk of poverty. The Department of Social Services administers child support programs in Virginia, including child support enforcement.

Quest logo identifying stores where food stamps / SNAP funds are accepted.

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) -- formerly Food Stamps: SNAP is an electronic benefits program that can be used like cash to buy food at any store that has a sign displaying the Cardinal Card or the Quest sign. Each eligible household receives a card that may be used like a bank debit card to purchase allowed food items. Learn more...

Medical Assistance/FAMIS: The Medical Assistance program (Medicaid) was established under Title XIX of the Social Security Act to allow states to provide medical care for public assistance recipients and medically needy persons. The program is financed by state and federal funds.

In Virginia, Children's Health Insurance includes Medicaid and Family Access to Medical Insurance Security (FAMIS) and is available through a single application. Children will be covered by Medicaid if the family's income meets the requirements. Children who are ineligible for Medicaid but who meet the FAMIS requirements will be covered by FAMIS. Get more info...

Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF): The TANF program provides eligible families with a monthly cash payment to meet their basic needs. See eligibility rules.

The Department of Housing and Community Development runs a number of programs aimed at preventing homelessness and advancing homeownership. DHCD also provides a range of multi-purpose community development grants that can be used to address a variety of community needs.

Governor McDonnell has established a housing policy framework to address homelessness, the expansion of affordable housing, and the creation of a Virginia Foreclosure Task Force, among other efforts to develop consistent policy and approaches to housing issues across the state.  For more info, visit

Additional Information

The Virginia Poverty Task Force released its recommendations to combat poverty in the Commonwealth and increase economic stability for approximately 750,000 Virginians - including 250,000 children - living in poverty. Get the report (PDF).