TOPEKA (KSNT) – A recent study by the U.S. Census Bureau (USCB) identified 341 counties across the country, including one in Kansas, as places where people are living at higher poverty rates.

The USCB study identified places where people are living in persistent poverty. These are counties where poverty rates are maintained at levels of 20% or more for the past 30 years. Among the 341 counties named in the study, Riley County was selected as the only one from Kansas as being a place where persistent poverty exists.

According to the USCB study, people living in places of higher poverty experience more severe systemic problems than those living in lower poverty areas. This can consist of limited access to medical services, healthy and affordable food, quality education and civic engagement opportunities.

Julie Gibbs, director of the Riley County Health Department (RCHD), wrote in an email that USCB data points to a 17.6% poverty rate in the county, placing them in second for the highest poverty rate in the state behind Crawford County. Gibbs said this trend is nothing new and can be tied to the large Kansas State University student population living in Manhattan, some of which attend classes while living in crumbling apartments.

“The university has a large number of undergrad students (15,046 in 2021) and most complete their classes in person,” Gibbs wrote. “The students account for about 20% of the 72,000 people who reside in Riley County, and many of them do not work full time or have regular, reportable income.”

However, Gibbs wrote the issue of poverty within the student population cannot be overlooked. Many programs are on hand for students who are struggling such as the Cat’s Cupboard, Flint Hill’s Breadbasket and Nourish Together: Food and Farm Council. Additional support offered by the RCHD includes the Community Health Fair and an upcoming Community Baby Shower.

“Our message to people who are struggling is, you’re not alone and we’re here to help,” Gibbs wrote.

Riley County District 1 Commissioner John Ford said the results of the USCB study were not surprising. He said in an interview with KSNT 27 News that the large transient population of Riley County, students, and soldiers from Fort Riley, contribute to the poverty study.

“I think it’s [poverty] starting to become an issue everywhere, including in Riley County,” Ford said.

Ford said recent events like the COVID-19 pandemic contributed to poverty in the county, which impacts groups like senior citizens. He and other county officials are working to shift resources to these groups and make sure that programs like the ones mentioned by Gibbs are available to people.

The USCB study determines poverty status through a comparison of annual income to a set of dollar values (poverty thresholds) which vary by family size, number of children in the household, and the age of the householder. If a family’s before-tax money income is found to be less than the dollar value of their household, then that family and every individual in it are considered to be in poverty. Single individuals are determined to be in poverty by a comparison of the individual’s income to his or her poverty threshold. Poverty thresholds are updated annually to account for changes to the cost of living by using the Consumer Price Index (CPI).

Counties identified by the USCB’s persistent poverty study. (Photo Courtesy/USCB)

Results gathered by the USCB study state that 6.1% of Americans, a around 20 million people, live in a persistent poverty county as of 2019. The majority of counties in persistent poverty come from the southern states (Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Mississippi and Kentucky) at 278 of the 341 listed or 81.5%.

The USCB study used data on poverty estimates from the 1990 and 200 Censuses, the 2005-2009 American Community Survey (ACS), 5-year estimates, and the 2015-2019 ACS. You can view the full report online by clicking here.