The poorest community in the United States

By Razib Khan | April 21, 2011 12:18 am

Its demographics:

As of the census…of 2000, there were 13,138 people, 2,229 households, and 2,137 families residing in the village. The population density was 11,962.2 people per square mile (4,611.5/km2). There were 2,233 housing units at an average density of 2,033.2 per square mile (783.8/km2). The racial makeup of the village was 99.02% White, 0.21% African American, 0.02% Asian, 0.12% from other races, and 0.63% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 0.93% of the population.

The 2000 census also reports that only 6.2% of village residents spoke English at home, one of the lowest such percentages in the United States…46% spoke English “not well”….

There were 2,229 households out of which 79.5% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 93.2% were married couples living together, 1.6% had a female householder with no husband present, and 4.1% were non-families. 2.8% of all households were made up of individuals and 2.1% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 5.74 and the average family size was 5.84. In the village the population was spread out with 57.5% under the age of 18, 17.2% from 18 to 24, 16.5% from 25 to 44, 7.2% from 45 to 64, and 1.6% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 15 years. For every 100 females there were 116.3 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 118.0 males.

The median income for a household in the village was $15,138, and the median income for a family was $15,372. Males had a median income of $25,043 versus $16,364 for females. The per capita income for the village was $4,355. About 61.7% of families and 62.2% of the population were below the poverty line, including 63.9% of those under age 18 and 50.5% of those age 65 or over.

According 2008 census figures, the village has the highest poverty rate in the nation, and the largest percentage of residents who receive food stamps. More than five-eighths of…residents live below the federal poverty line and more than 40 percent receive food stamps, according to the American Community Survey, a U.S. Census Bureau study of every place in the country with 20,000 residents or more….

And now a New York Times article about the community, A Village With the Numbers, Not the Image, of the Poorest Place:

“It is, in a sense, a statistical anomaly,” Professor Helmreich said. “They are clearly not wealthy, and they do have a lot of children. They spend whatever discretionary income they have on clothing, food and baby carriages. They don’t belong to country clubs or go to movies or go on trips to Aruba.

This is the human past, and perhaps the human future. Gains in productivity and wealth are translated into raw human numbers. While affluent self-actualizing members of society wring hands over whether to bring children into this “horrible world,” there are communities and cultures which have no such hesitation. They breed and they flourish. No fear, just hope of the promise to come. They will be the inheritors. They are rich in the possibilities of future.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Culture
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  • Darkside

    are jews more successful when they’re less religious? orthodox jews do poorly and “regular” jews are the ones that dominate? anyone know?

  • http://shinbounomatsuri.wordpress.com Spike Gomes

    They can’t all be Matisyahu, can they? :-)

  • http://www.rishon-rishon.com David Boxenhorn

    Reading the Wikipedia article about the conflicts between high-density Kiryas Joel and the surrounding low-density exurban communities, I am reminded of the conflict between agriculturists and hunter-gatherers. Hunter-gatherers probably also wanted to maintain their superior, luxury lifestyle. They can delay the inevitable, and indeed had a lot of tools at their disposal to do so, but in the long run they cannot win against demographics.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    david, yah, i had the exact same thought….

  • JS

    If this is the future then the future is ecological disaster followed by generalized famine.

  • Charles Nydorf

    I was born in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, the neighborhood from which Kiryas Joel draws its population. I was never personally religious and I’m not big on family life but other neighborhood values have always stood in me in good stead. I believe in honest poverty, using my resources to support my scholarship. I’m somewhat communitarian and I have tried to keep up my Yiddish.

  • http://www.gwern.net gwern

    Drat, I guessed wrong – I figured it was one of the dissident Mormon sects engaged in polygamy (though I couldn’t figure out how they would not be speaking English at home).

  • omar

    “there are communities and cultures which have no such hesitation. They breed and they flourish. No fear, just hope of the promise to come. They will be the inheritors. They are rich in the possibilities of future”.

    I dont think they are the inheritors in the sense that they will take over the world some day. The world is a very big place. I think such communities and closed cultures are likely to remain exceptions, not the rule. And they lose adherents even as they breed new ones. I admire a lot of these communities but I dont think most people are going to be joining them…I think the attractions of “progress”, while decidedly mixed, do reflect something about human nature. Even in Iran, which is about as “Islamic” as a large country can be (and therefore has some of the same “richness of possibilities of the future”), the population growth rate has slowed dramatically as people have become more modern. Small communities will continue to buck the trend, but the vast majority of humankind is condemned to looking like the vast majority does right now: pretty mainstream (and not so attractive?). They may be reproducing less per capita, but they are huge in absolute numbers and likely to stay that way….They may ALL become poorer if some disaster hits at a global level or capitalism crashes and nothing more efficient replaces it, and then they will no doubt start breeding more too, but I dont see a future where the descendants of this village outnumber the descendants of the Chinese.

  • Terry

    The other outlook on this group is that they use their disproportionate strength in votes to legally steal funds from surrounding areas to build “public goods” that really only support a single group’s private need from those around them who create the value that produces those funds. This allows them to continue to live their lifestyle without worrying about the actual requirements to provide for their families. If you are going to live a quiet, religious lifestyle, it’s better not to do it on the backs of others who have no choice in the matter…

  • http://dioegenesartemis.blogspot.com/ Diogenes

    Reaction often mimmicks Revolution, particularly in it’s last gasps…
    Ultra-religious revivals all around the World (some more uncompromising than others) may not be what they seem I think, since it’s difficult to make linear predictions in transitory epochs (and yet people love them- see financial bubble).

  • omar

    Does anyone know what this community does for medical care? I doubt if they can afford private insurance. Do they get medicaid? medicare?

  • http://washparkprophet.blogspot.com ohwilleke

    The flip side to the population genetic fitness benefits of an ideology that favors large families with low incomes is the impact of ideological conversion.

    One particularly notable recent effort to quantify ideological conversion factors showed that under assumptions pretty close to reality, ideologies that people are more likely to convert away from than convert towards inevitably die out under a very robust range of other factors much more quickly than you would intuitively expect.

    Tweaking the assumptions a little while still remaining within the range that empirical evidence dictates limits the basic conclusion only slightly – there can be a steady state with a tiny core of people who share an ideology that has net ideological conversion losses, but it doesn’t cascade out of control as simplier population genetic models would suspect. The experience of communities like the Amish suggest that this may be a fairly good model of reality.

    I have to believe that children in a predominantly Yiddish speaking Hasdic Jews in a small impoverished community, no matter what other virtues it may have, are going to be more likely to convert out than outsiders are to convert in in 21st century in the New York City suburbs. The outside world which is impossible to hide is just going to be way to tempting for those kids to resist. They aren’t going to be Anglicans who join country clubs in the next generation, but a lot are going to at least marry native born non-Hasidic Jews rather than other members of the community.

  • http://www.rishon-rishon.com David Boxenhorn

    The experience of communities like the Amish suggest that this may be a fairly good model of reality.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amish#Population_and_distribution

  • Mark

    “The other outlook on this group is that they use their disproportionate strength in votes to legally steal funds from surrounding areas to build “public goods” that really only support a single group’s private need from those around them who create the value that produces those funds. This allows them to continue to live their lifestyle without worrying about the actual requirements to provide for their families. If you are going to live a quiet, religious lifestyle, it’s better not to do it on the backs of others who have no choice in the matter…”

    I, too, am annoyed by religious people who subsidize their lifestyles through some form of welfare, as I don’t pay taxes to bring others closer to God. Still, I think most of these groups would survive even without public assistance. Several thousand Old Order Mennonites left Canada for Mexico in the early 20th century and stayed there, preferring to subject their children to *malnutrition* while they figured out how to survive on Mexican farmland and in the Mexican economy rather than expose those same children to the Canadian public school system. Very religious people are willing to put themselves and their families through quite a bit.

  • John Emerson

    They breed and they flourish. No fear, just hope of the promise to come. They will be the inheritors. They are rich in the possibilities of future.

    Give them points for community and avoiding the negativities of modern life, but with no emphasis on education mentioned and high welfare dependency, they look more like a freakish dead end, a viable third world enclave in the middle of the modern world.

    “Third world” is too strong, they seem to be at the very bottom economic end of the developed world, probably like come Latin American country. And only because they’re subsidized.

    If I’m not mistaken, such communities in Israel are widely resented.

  • http://entitledtoanopinion.wordpress.com TGGP

    I agree with Emerson that there’s some resentment in Israel, but due to fear of high Arab relative birth-rates and the strategic usefulness of the often ultra-orthodox settlers (some would argue against the wisdom of such a strategy, but that’s the way it’s been for decades) they continue to be tolerated. However, Americans are not going to have that view, and certainly are not going to feel guilty about not being so exemplarily jewish. I would expect reactions similar to that of communities trying to drive away FLDS compounds. If they could adopt a more self-sustaining model like the Amish, they would be more likely to inherit the earth.

  • http://entitledtoanopinion.wordpress.com TGGP

    I guess I spoke too soon.

  • http://rfmcdpei.livejournal.com Randy McDonald

    it doesn’t strike me that a poor community so highly dependent on income transfers from fellow sectarians and the wider society represents a significant challenge to the majority culture. The risk of defections aside, the political economy of the community is profoundly vulnerable to external shocks.

  • http://www.rishon-rishon.com David Boxenhorn

    I don’t think they are “highly dependent on income transfers”. I think if the transfers were to stop, they would make the necessary adjustments and continue on much as before.

  • John Emerson

    Some of the commenters in the thread TGGP linked seemed unable to realize that the reason that 5% of the Medicaid participants spend 50% of the money isn’t profligacy, but disease. I’m one of the lucky people who spends nothing at all on medical care many years, but it’s not because I’m a frugal or good person.

    Biologically, the most successfully fertile win, but politically and economically the factors and targets are different. Bengal, Java, and Egypt have done well in the population competition, but they’re enormous losers in every other respect. China and India have won the population competition, but they’re still playing catch up otherwise.

  • John Emerson

    It strike me that Amish population growth is limited by the size of the economic niches for small farmers and related technology. (Around here they have a small sawmill, they build barns, and they have a metal shop, the modern equivalent of a blacksmith shop. — plus the crafts.) They seek out poor, cheap land and buy it with cash, but there’s only so much of that to buy. Soon the whole marginal-farm sector might be Amish, but that’s not a wonderful niche.

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About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at http://www.razib.com

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