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These striking black-and-white photos bring poverty in America to life.

These somber photos document a part of the United States many rarely see.

Photographer Matt Black's latest project shows us an America we're all a part of but not all of us see.

After two decades of documenting impoverished areas in California, Black decided to take his project on the road, tracing a path all across the country.

A photo posted by Matt Black (@mattblack_blackmatt) on



He visited areas that have at least a 20% poverty rate (which as of 2014 is an income of $11,490 for individuals and $23,550 for a family of four). A whopping 45 million of Americans are living in poverty — the highest number recorded. And that isn't even including the working poor (who are more than 50% of SNAP recipients).

While it's clear that poverty's impact is different in every town, the project shows there is a commonality that connects them — us — all.

In an interview with Time, Black explains,

"I wanted to find a continuous route that linked all of these towns, which are no more than a couple of hundred miles from each other. And the fact that you can link all of these communities from coast to coast and back again is telling." — Matt Black
A photo posted by Matt Black (@mattblack_blackmatt) on


So many of the representations of poverty we see in the media are usually from out there — other countries. Black's work sheds light on what's happening right here at home.

His remarkable photos are accompanied by stunning facts about life in each specific area. The captions range from quotes from locals to statistics about the health conditions of the region's residents.

A quick look at his Instagram account shows photos from California...

The Geography of Poverty USA - Santa Maria, CA. Santa Maria is a city in Santa Barbara County, California. The population is 99,553 and 20.7% live below the poverty level. Approximately 10,000 people work in the city's surrounding strawberry fields, earning $1.25 per box picked. Amador Angeles, field worker: “I wish for my kids to to study so they don't have to carry on like us." #geographyofpoverty www.geographyofpoverty.com
A photo posted by Matt Black (@mattblack_blackmatt) on
The Geography of Poverty USA - Oil field. Bakersfield, CA. Kern County's fields produce one in every 12 barrels of domestic oil. Deep shale drilling releases into the air compounds that cause smog, respiratory problems, and cancer. #geographyofpoverty
A photo posted by Matt Black (@mattblack_blackmatt) on


...to the Southwest.

The Geography of Poverty USA - Brownsville, TX. Brownsville is a city in Cameron County, Texas. The population is 175,023 and 35.3% live below the poverty level. #geographyofpoverty
A photo posted by Matt Black (@mattblack_blackmatt) on
The Geography of Poverty USA - The remains of an unidentified migrant discovered in Brooks County, Texas, await forensic analysis. The bodies of twenty-six border crossers have been found so far this year in the rural Texas county, one of the nation's poorest. #geographyofpoverty
A photo posted by Matt Black (@mattblack_blackmatt) on


Through the South...

The Geography of Poverty USA - Hyden, KY. Hyden is a city in Leslie County, Kentucky. The population is 365 and 26.3% live below the poverty level. #geographyofpoverty
A photo posted by Matt Black (@mattblack_blackmatt) on
The Geography of Poverty USA - Cancer Alley, Louisiana. Cancer Alley is an 85 mile stretch of over 200 petrochemical facilities beginning in Baton Rouge (25.4% poverty) stretching past New Orleans (27.3% poverty) and towards the coast. Though comprising just 1/3 of the state's population, 80% of Louisiana's African-American residents live within three miles of a hazardous industrial zoned facility. #geographyofpoverty
A photo posted by Matt Black (@mattblack_blackmatt) on


...up the Northeast...

Burlington, VT. "They think I am stealing something because I have two kids and a stroller. If you get mad you are just giving them more reason to discriminate against you." Burlington is a city in Chittenden County, Vermont. The population is 42,417 and 25.1% live below the poverty level. "You just got to keep calm and suck it up." #geographyofpoverty
A photo posted by Matt Black (@mattblack_blackmatt) on
Erie, PA. Pistolvania. "The first 15 days of July featured two gunshot-related homicides, at least nine shootings that wounded people, a shots-fired investigation in which a police officer was fired upon and at least two armed robberies." Erie is a city in Erie County, Pennsylvania. The population is 101,786 and 27.8% live below the poverty level. #geographyofpoverty
A photo posted by Matt Black (@mattblack_blackmatt) on


...and completing the circle in the Northwest.

#Repost @msnbcphoto
・・・
Between 2009 and 2013, some 41.5% of Flint's residents lived below the poverty line, compared to just 16.8% of the rest of the state. A quarter of its families have an annual income of below $15,000 a year. The city's child poverty rate of 66.5% is nearly 10 percentage points higher than Detroit's. Block by block, neighborhoods where GM had built houses for its workers were marked by the detritus of abandonment, crumbling homes and overgrown lots. Crime and despair began to fester. And generations of families barely making it replaced those that had once thrived. Often those families were one and the same. The population loss and economic collapse has compounded other issues, including access to quality education, healthcare and safety. There are also serious environmental concerns. When industry pulled out of the city, it left behind huge swaths of contaminated land. Aging and decrepit infrastructure, including a deteriorating water system, has meant dangerously high levels of toxins in the city's water supply. Today on MSNBC we launch Chapter 3 from our on-going feature, Geography of Poverty, “The Rust Belt: Once Mighty Cities in Decline - An auto giant's exit brings Flint to its knees" by photographer @mattblack_blackmatt and reporter Trymaine Lee. You can see the latest installment of this in-depth feature with detailed interactive graphics and powerful photography on msnbc.com/photography (link in profile) Thank you to our partners on this project the @pulitzercenter, the @economichardship and the @magnumfoundation
A photo posted by Matt Black (@mattblack_blackmatt) on
Fort Yates, ND. "The poverty that has been imposed, and the taking of our riches, says it all for their American Dream. It's very different for us." Fort Yates is a town in Sioux County, North Dakota. The population is 2,386 and 44.3% live below the poverty level. #geographyofpoverty
A photo posted by Matt Black (@mattblack_blackmatt) on
Pasco, WA. Pasco is a city in Franklin County, Washington. The population is 59,781 and 21.5% live below the poverty level. #geographyofpoverty
A photo posted by Matt Black (@mattblack_blackmatt) on


Black's roadtrip shows us how poverty isn't an isolated problem caused by individual failure. It's a systemic issue that connects (too) many communities.

As he explained to Time:

"'What really dawned on me is how connected these places are,' he adds. 'I've driven all the way across the country, but in a lot of ways I feel I still haven't left the Central Valley. It feels like one place. Uniting them in this kind of visual document is challenging but immensely satisfying because it feels like I'm making a statement that needs to be made.'"

And now folks around the world can get a rare look into these all-too-common, greatly hidden pockets of American poverty. And they're struck by it.

Each Instagram post includes comments from users — many who share that they have a new awareness of poverty throughout the U.S. And it's not just Instagrammers who are impressed. Black's photography has received critical acclaim, including a nomination from Magnum Photos.

Says Black to Time, "A lot of people have been blown away by it. It's not so much about the individual circumstances as it is about the collective whole."

Photo: Jason DeCrow for United Nations Foundation

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