Poorest Place in US: Jewish 'Burb in NY

Kiryas Joel at rock bottom—on paper
By Kevin Spak,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 21, 2011 9:28 AM CDT
Residents line up to vote at a polling station, Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2010 in Kiryas Joel, NY.   (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

(Newser) – Kiryas, NY, doesn’t look like the poorest place in America. The village has no slums, no homeless people, and pretty much no crime. Yet a whopping 70% of Kiryas Joel's 21,000 residents are below the federal poverty line, and its median family income is just $17,929, making it far and away the poorest place in America—at least statistically, according to the New York Times. But Kiryas is an odd place; it’s populated predominantly by ultra-orthodox Satmar Hasidic Jews, most of whom speak almost exclusively Yiddish.

Women there marry young and don’t use birth control, giving the town the lowest median age (12) and highest average family size (6) in the country. But residents manage just fine, thanks to charity from its wealthier members and collective action. The community runs many businesses as nonprofits and, by voting en masse, wields enough political clout to get loads of government help. They recently, for example, built a government-funded $10 million postnatal maternal care center—prompting one state lawmaker to call for an investigation. “They may be truly poor on paper,” the lawmaker says. “They are not truly poor in reality.”

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