As of November 4, 2023, the poorest town in North Dakota has been named as Wahpeton. This is according to a recent article published by MoneyWise, which ranked towns and cities in the state based on their median household income and poverty rate.
Wahpeton is a city of just under 8,000 people located in the Red River Valley. It has a median household income of just over $45,000 and a poverty rate of 18.4%. This is significantly lower than the state median household income of $65,315 and poverty rate of 11.9%.
The Factors Behind Wahpeton’s High Poverty Rate
Wahpeton’s elevated poverty rate can be attributed to a multifaceted set of factors, each of which contributes to the town’s economic challenges:
Reliance on Manufacturing Jobs: Historically, Wahpeton has been a hub for manufacturing, but this sector has been on the decline in recent years. In 2010, manufacturing accounted for 30% of the town’s jobs, but by 2020, it had plummeted to 20%. The decline in manufacturing jobs has led to job losses and a decrease in wages for many workers, exacerbating the poverty issue.
High Cost of Living: The cost of living in Wahpeton is relatively high, particularly for housing. The median home value in Wahpeton is $220,400, surpassing the state median of $198,700. This disparity makes housing affordability a considerable challenge for many residents.
Lack of Access to Education and Training: Educational attainment in Wahpeton remains below the state average. In 2020, only 20% of Wahpeton residents possessed a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared to the 32% of North Dakota residents overall. This deficiency in education and training opportunities makes it harder for individuals to secure well-paying jobs.
Discrimination: Wahpeton is home to a significant Native American population, and they are more likely to face poverty than other racial and ethnic groups due to discrimination in the workplace and housing market.
Lack of Economic Opportunities: Being a relatively small city, Wahpeton offers a limited number of economic opportunities, making it challenging for people to find stable, well-paying employment and support themselves and their families.
Additional Contributing Factors
Several other factors also play a role in Wahpeton’s high poverty rate:
Single-Parent Households: Single-parent households are more susceptible to living in poverty compared to two-parent households. In 2020, 25% of households in Wahpeton were headed by a single parent, compared to 20% of households in North Dakota overall.
Food Insecurity: Food insecurity is a prevalent issue in Wahpeton. In 2020, 12% of households in Wahpeton faced food insecurity, surpassing the state’s average of 10%. Food insecurity can limit access to healthy meals and contribute to health problems.
Substance Abuse: Substance abuse is another issue plaguing Wahpeton. In 2020, 10% of adults in Wahpeton reported having a substance use disorder, compared to 8% of adults in North Dakota overall. Substance abuse can lead to job loss, health problems, and other challenges that hinder individuals from supporting themselves.
City of Wahpeton’s Efforts to Combat Poverty
While the challenges are significant, the City of Wahpeton is taking active steps to address its poverty rate. These initiatives include:
Job Training Programs: The city offers job training programs designed to equip residents with the skills required to secure better-paying jobs, creating pathways out of poverty.
Affordable Housing Programs: Recognizing the housing cost as a barrier, Wahpeton provides affordable housing programs to help residents find housing they can afford.
Early Childhood Education Programs: The city is investing in early childhood education programs to ensure that children have the skills and opportunities they need to succeed in school and later in life, breaking the cycle of poverty.
Attracting New Businesses and Industries: Wahpeton is actively working to attract new businesses and industries to the area, with the aim of creating additional jobs and economic opportunities for its residents.
Wahpeton’s designation as the poorest town in Rhode Island is the result of a complex interplay of factors, including the decline in manufacturing jobs, a high cost of living, limited access to education and training, discrimination, and a lack of economic opportunities. Additionally, single-parent households, food insecurity, and substance abuse further contribute to the town’s poverty issue.
Despite these challenges, the City of Wahpeton is taking concrete steps to address the poverty rate, offering job training programs, affordable housing initiatives, early childhood education programs, and efforts to attract new businesses and industries. These initiatives, though vital, represent only the beginning of what is necessary to help the people of Wahpeton overcome the hardships they face. To truly effect change, concerted efforts, community support, and ongoing commitment are essential in transforming Wahpeton into a place of economic opportunity and prosperity for all its residents.