Tiny Rappahannock ranks near the top nationally — and it isn’t flattering

County assessment has surprising figures on income inequality, poverty and disability

Projected ‘stagnant’ population growth of 5.75 percent from 2020-2040

Rappahannock County has one of the highest rates of income inequality in the United States, ranking an astonishing 64th among the entire 3,084 jurisdictions (counties and county equivalents) in the United States.

According to federal and state figures, Rappahannock households in the top 1 percent income bracket earn 33 times that of households in the bottom 1 percent — a persistent problem cited by lower-income residents across the country, as it drives up local costs.

Comparably speaking, neighboring Fauquier County is ranked 857th and Culpeper is 2,750th in income inequality.

At the same time, Rappahannock has the highest poverty rate — 10 percent — in Virginia’s northern Piedmont region, with an even higher poverty rate for children at more than 16 percent, which is above the state average of 15 percent.

The county also has a “larger than expected” linguistically isolated population: 2.4 percent of its overwhelmingly caucasian residents have limited English proficiency.

And an above average number of Rappahannock citizens have a disability — 12 percent of the population — the majority being women.

These are just a few of the findings contained in the “2017 Community Assessment” of Rappahannock County just released by People, Inc., a Virginia-based organization that seeks to provide opportunities to enhance lives, families and communities from here in the northern Piedmont to southwest Virginia’s coal country.

Statistics in the report are culled from the U.S. Census Bureau, U.S. Department of Education, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

So detailed is the Rappahannock assessment in areas that include population, housing, education, poverty, and public assistance that it would arguably take sociologists weeks if not months to evaluate.

For example, the median household income of Rappahannock County is $59,753 — well below the state median of $65,015, but skewed given the extremely lopsided wealthy sector of the county’s population.

Rappahannock’s poverty figures reveal that the average amount of public assistance benefits received by county residents is $4,170 — well above the state average of $2,918, and the national average of $3,490.

Although the rate for so-called food insecurity is only 9 percent for the total population, it is over 19 percent for children in the county. In other words, 1 of 5 children in Rappahannock are in need of nutritional assistance, according to the report.

More concerning, according to the report, is the rate of children who are “food insecure” yet “ineligible” for assistance: 37 percent compared to a national average of 31 percent.

SNAP, a primary means of supporting “food insecure families”, is provided to 6 percent (about 192) of Rappahannock households.

“However, there is only one grocery store in the county that is authorized to accept SNAP benefits and no grocery stores authorized to accept WIC (federal Women, Infants, and Children Food and Nutrition Service) payments,” the report states.

“This means that low-income families must travel the long distance to neighboring counties for groceries, which can be difficult when you may not have a car or money for gas.”

Staying with the subject of Rappahannock children, the U.S. Department of Education reports that 35.5 percent of fourth graders in the county — more than 1 in 3 students — scored “not proficient or worse” on standardized reading tests in 2014-15, well above the state average of 23 percent.

As for beyond fourth grade?

“The county has a high rate of individuals with a high school education or less — more than 65 percent of all those 18 and older. More significant, however, is the gender differences. Among those with no high school diploma, 17 percent are male and 10 percent are female,” according to the report.

“For [Rappahannock] individuals in poverty, 42 percent of men have no high school diploma, compared to 22 percent of women.”

In other findings: the median age in the county is just under 50 years old (49.1), a whopping decade-plus older than the state’s average age of 37.6. The largest portion of the population is over 65 (almost 23 percent), while only 18 percent of the county is under the age of 18.

Of most concern, says the report, is the small portion of young adults: those 18 to 24 account for only 5.8 percent of the population, and those 25 to 34 is only slightly larger at 7.9 percent.

“While Fauquier and Culpeper are well developed and growing more so, Rappahannock’s low-density development contains only 28 people per square mile and zoning laws limit development so strictly that population growth will be extremely limited,” says the report.

“From 2020 to 2040, growth is projected to be only 5.75 percent in Rappahannock. Meanwhile, in Culpeper, the population is expected to grow 32.8 percent, and in Fauquier growth is projected to be 25.52 percent.”

In fact, the report projects that by 2040 the number of young adults aged 20 to 24 in Rappahannock will actually “decline” due to a lack of jobs and housing opportunities. The largest segment of the population, adults 25 to 64, will remain “stagnant.”

Currently, among the 7,308 residents of Rappahannock County, 93 percent are white, 4 percent are African American, and 3 percent are Hispanic or Latino.

Some 13 percent of county residents are veterans, higher than the state average of 11 percent.

And if you think your neighbor renting the house next door was on the move, you’re probably correct: during a recent one year period more than 25 percent of renters in Rappahannock County moved — 20 percent to a different part of the state, 27 percent to another state.

Other intriguing Rappahannock County findings contained in the report:

* Number of primary care physicians: 3

* Number of dentists: 2

* Number of mental health providers: 5

* Mental health care facilities: 0

* Obese adults: 27 percent

* Vacant housing units: 17 percent

* Cost-burdened home renters: 337

* Cost-burdened homeowners with/without mortgages: 630

* Population over age 18 with less than 9th grade education: 19.3 percent

* Number of grocery stores: 2

* Population with no leisure physical activity: 22.6 percent

* Two largest employers: Rappahannock County Schools, Inn at Little Washington respectively

* Unemployment rate (Jan. 2017): 3.4 percent

* Population in poverty: 733 (9.9 percent)

About John McCaslin 466 Articles
John McCaslin is the editor of the Rappahannock News. Email him at editor@rappnews.com.


  1. I’d like to know where the statistics can be found for other counties in Virginia. I live in Greene County. I couldn’t find the source for your material, but I’m sure it exists for the whole state.

    • Much of this data came from the U.S. Census Bureau. You can also try accessing the Community Needs Assessment report from Skyline Community Action Partnership, the community action agency that serves Greene County. It will include much of the same data. It can be found on their website at http://www.skylinecap.org under the About Us section.

  2. I’m a little confused by Silverghost’s dismissal of this article as “one person’s opinion.” If the article is supported by data from five different federal agencies, how exactly is it “opinion”? “Opinion,” friend, is your conviction that the creation of a bucolic facade that deliberately ignores serious poverty and need is perfectly fine, or the conviction that poor people created their problems through “bad choices.” Please, educate yourself on the actual causes and effects of poverty (which are horribly complex), and stop relying on self-righteous assumptions that serve only to justify a desire to judge others. There’s a reason, folks, that people like me–younger people who were raised in Virginia’s rural counties (Madison in my case)–leave to get degrees and find work and never return. The insistence on maintaining a pretty paradise for moneyed retirees results in stagnation and a county that slowly dies, economically and culturally. Those of us who can, leave; those who can’t leave often continue the same damaging cycles that kept their parents from being economically mobile.

  3. This is one person’s opinion. I think a county that has managed to keep the creeping development at bay is to be congratulated. Drive out 211 through the county, or take some of the many intersecting roads. It’s a beautiful, bucolic county that will likely stay that way for many years. Good for them. Statistics never tell the real story, but make for attention-grabbing headlines.

  4. Indeed, there is a great sense of entitlement, crossing into the neighboring counties too. The blindness to need and belief in pulling oneself up by the bootstraps negates the understanding of poverty and is used to justify disparity without action. If you truly believe that people are poor because they are lazy and living large on welfare, being wealthy and not putting a portion back towards those in need becomes easier as you keep repeating the myth. As for the person who wanted to know what to do, first go to the sources of information and learn about the problem. Census figures, the Community Services board, the local library, county government, then start to speead the word and become proactive in change. Local churches, schools, government programs etc need money and volunteers. More infrastructure to support those living in poverty is needed in Rappahannock, Fauquier, Culpeper and Orange. This can’t happen until awareness is raised and people start putting their resources into the problem. Great article and a good start at raising the bar, keep shaking the tree!

  5. Terrific article and very unsettling. For those of us who are newer to the County, it would be very helpful if perhaps you could write a follow up post in next week’s paper on reminders/suggestions how fellow community members can help. E.g., a cheat sheet / directory of services, local nonprofits, places to donate time, money, mentoring, etc. This probably already exists somewhere online but making it easily available would be deeply appreciated and might spark a nice uptick in support as a response to the article’s stats.

    Thanks always for using your paper to bring greater awareness of topics that matter.

    • Unfortunately, there isn’t a really good directory for programs in Rappahannock County. The Benevolent Fund and The Food Pantry are great places to donate money and both are in need of volunteers. The Benevolent Fund is working with Trinity Episcopal on a volunteer home repair program that is quintessential Rappahannock County. RappU is another great organization doing work to help lift people out of poverty in the county through its new adult education programs. Headwaters Foundation works with youth in the county and, last I checked, did need volunteers to mentor youth. The Senior Center, Aging Together, and Rapp at Home all work with local seniors. And, of course, let’s not forget all of the great churches in the community that are working with the youth and providing other support services. You can Google any or all of these organizations for more information.

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