Recently we took a look at some of the wealthiest counties in Virginia. As many of you pointed out, and quite accurately I might add, these areas were all near Washington, DC. It might seem rather obvious that where we have a high concentration of government jobs and urban centers, we also see the highest concentration of wealth.
When looking at the poorest areas, it’s also no surprise that the highest levels of poverty occur in more remote areas. However, this list also has a few surprises. Despite lower median household income, some of the cities on this list also include some of the most beautiful parts of the state and some of our most charming small cities and towns. These areas also have a much lower cost of living. So, I guess the moral of the story is that money doesn’t always buy the highest quality of life.
1. Martinsville: median household income $28,116
With a poverty rate of 27.2%, Martinsville has certainly seen better times. Formerly a hub for furniture making and textile manufacturing, changing economies in the early 1990s forced many of the larger plants to close, creating high levels of unemployment. Although Martinsville is an independent city, there has been discussion of returning to town status due to recent economic declines.
2. Buchanan County: median household income: $29,848
Located in the Appalachian region of Southwest Virginia, Buchanan County was built around coal mining. Although the county seat of Grundy is home to the Appalachian School of Law and the Appalachian College of Pharmacy and has seen economic revitalization in recent years, the surround county continues to remain low with 25.9% poverty levels.
3. Galax: median household income: $30,714
Like Martinsville, changing times have taken their toll on Galax. Once a railroad center, the city was known for manufacturing furniture, textiles, mirrors, garments, and hardwood flooring. But economic downturns have forced the closing of all but one of its furniture factories, leaving many people unemployed. Currently, 25.3% of the population lives at or below the poverty line. Galax is best known for it's mountain music heritage and is home to the annual Galax Old Fiddler's Convention and despite low economic status, is still a charming, quaint town.
4. Radford: median household income $30,714
In the mid-19th century, Radford was a railroad town and over the next century, experienced growth and a thriving economy. But like many railroad towns, changes in transportation also created changes in the economy. Today, Radford is still a charming historical town centered around Radford University, but overall incomes have dropped. Also, a large concentration of college students most likely factors in to this city's high poverty rate of 37.7%.
5. Grayson County: median household income $30,710
While Grayson County might have low economic statistics and a poverty rate of 19.1%, it boasts a wealth of natural beauty, including parts of the Blue Ridge Parkway, the Jefferson National Forest and the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area. Historically, Grayson has been isolated economically due to the surrounding mountains and a lack of major interstates. Although Grayson has struggled to draw in and retain businesses, which only grew worse with the national recession, recent efforts have been made to increase jobs. Towns in Grayson include Fries, Independence and Troutdale, and like Galax, the county is known for its mountain music heritage, hosting many annual festivals and events.
6. Danville: median household income: $30,768
Danville is a city rich in history, if not money. When Richmond fell in 1865, Danville became the last Capital of the Confederacy and today, still shows beautifully preserved examples of its history in the Sutherlin Mansion and Millionaires Row where visitors can take a self-guided walking tour of some of the grandest examples of Victorian and Edwardian architecture in Virginia. However, as a city built on tobacco exports, textiles and the railroad, changing national economies have taken their toll, resulting in poverty rates of 27.4%.
7. Lee County: median household income $31,308
Located in the far westernmost part of the state, Lee County is near the Cumberland Gap and was first discovered by Spanish explorers in search of gold. I suppose the irony is not lost that today Lee County, like so many other areas in the southwest, has experienced significant economic decline. With an economy largely based on tobacco and coal mining, recent declines in both of these commodities has left Lee with high unemployment and poverty rates of 26.8%. However, Lee also has many incredible natural areas as a portion of the Cumberland Gap National Historical Park resides in the county. Notable sites include Hensley's Settlement, Pinnacle Overlook, Sand Cave and White Rocks overlooking the towns of Ewing and Rose Hill.
8. Franklin: median household income $31,928
Franklin (not to be confused with Franklin County) is an independent city in southeastern Virginia. Franklin's economy is largely dependent on farming and manufacturing, and while it is listed as the 13th-most profitable and 12th-largest farming community in the state, the manufacturing industry has not been so lucky. Today, poverty rates in Franklin are at 23%.
9. Emporia: median household income $32,155
With a history dating back to the early 1700s, Emporia is an independent city within Greensville County in Southern Virginia. Although Emporia is a transportation crossroads with major railroad lines and interstates nearby, it is also the second smallest city in Virginia with a population just below 6,000.
The nearest urban hub is more than 60 miles away, which could be a contributing factor to Emporia's 29% poverty rate.
10. Bristol: median household income $32,221
Although it comes in as the 10th poorest area on our list, Bristol holds a few other interesting distinctions. Long considered the "Birthplace of County Music" because of its role in early commercial recordings, Bristol is also one of only 2 "twin" cities in Virginia. Bristol carries the same name and shares its main street, State Street, with neighboring Bristol, Tennessee. However, despite these distinctions, 21% of Bristol's population remains at or below the poverty line.
Although Virginia’s overall median household income is $63, 907 and the statewide poverty rate is only 11.3%, it’s clear to see that there are large disparities of wealth across the state. So what do YOU think of the numbers? Are there any surprises – either cities you didn’t expect or ones you thought would be included? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!