Poverty

Goal: Reduce poverty rate by 10 percent in 10 years.

  • What is this?

    We track the poverty rate, which is the percentage of the population that lives below the poverty line established by the U.S. Census Bureau. It varies by household size. For a single individual, the 2013 number is $11,888 in annual income. For a family of three, the poverty line is set at $18,751.

  • Why does it matter?

    Poverty limits Memphians' ability to provide for themselves and their families and can limit the opportunities to lead a healthy, productive life. A healthy economy reduces poverty as it grows.

  • Who is responsible?

    Poverty reduction is a joint effort of many entities in Memphis. EDGE, a partnership between the City and County, is tasked with developing the regional economy. Multiple non-governmental and governmental organizations aid in job readiness training, job placement, food and health programs and other resources to try to lift people out of poverty in a sustainable way. Additionally, the Division of Housing and Community Development addresses housing needs for low income families.

  • How do we measure performance?

    We examine poverty rate, whether it is declining, and the rate of change to see how Memphis and Shelby County are faring in comparison to the rest of the country.

What is the state of poverty in Memphis?

The poverty rate in Memphis is high, one of the highest in the United States. Measured through 2013, the poverty rate is increasing in Memphis, Shelby County and the US. Poverty is not growing as fast locally as it is nationally, but the trend is still problematic for the Memphis area.

How is the City of Memphis working to decrease poverty?

The City is currently developing the actions it will take as a part of the Blueprint for Prosperity, with the goal of reducing poverty by 10 percent in 10 years. More details to come as the plan is further developed.

Meanwhile, the City works in two main ways to address the root causes of poverty. First, the City partners with Shelby County to provide coordinated leadership for regional economic development. The City and County achieve that coordination through EDGE, the Economic Development Growth Engine. Economic growth can reduce poverty by making work easier to come by, improving pay for workers, and increasing the amount of resources that Memphis can invest in poverty-reduction initiatives.

Second, the City of Memphis recognizes the role that education plays in lifting people out of poverty. As the chart to the right demonstrates, higher levels of education reduce the likelihood that Memphians will live in poverty. As the largest stakeholder in the Shelby County school system, the City has joined in the state's "Drive to 55", striving for 55% of the population to have earned a college degree or certificate by 2025. The City believes that improved educational outcomes will enable more Memphians to break the cycle of poverty.

To help those living in poverty, the City's Housing and Community Development division (HCD) administers multiple programs that aid in accessing affordable housing options. Those programs include the Housing Choice Voucher Program, affordable rental housing programs and the Non-Profit Housing Center. HCD also administers grant programs that develop housing and provide rental assistance and support services to the homeless population in Memphis.

Memphians who live below the poverty line may need access to aid, whether that be nutritious food, affordable child care, health care services, or any number of other necessities to support themselves and their families. To learn about the regional government and non-governmental organizations that can help, please call the City's 211 information line.

More information

  • To learn more about EDGE, visit growth-engine.org.
  • To learn more about the Drive to 55, visit driveto55.org.
  • To learn more about the regional resources available for those living in poverty, call 211.

For more information on how the U.S. measures poverty and the poverty thresholds, visit this link or go here for threshold breakdowns.