Categories: Economy

Census Bureau: California still has highest U.S. poverty rate

Dan Walters | October 17, 2014

In this still frame from video provided by the Kashkari For Governor campaign, Neel Kashkari, the Republican candidate for California governor, speaks to the camera during a week he posed as a homeless and unemployed person on the streets of Fresno.AP

California continues to have – by far – the nation’s highest level of poverty under an alternative method devised by the Census Bureau that takes into account both broader measures of income and the cost of living.

Nearly a quarter of the state’s 38 million residents (8.9 million) live in poverty, a new Census Bureau report says, a level virtually unchanged since the agency first began reporting on the method’s effects.

Under the traditional method of gauging poverty, adopted a half-century ago, California’s rate is 16 percent (6.1 million residents), somewhat above the national rate of 14.9 percent but by no means the highest. That dubious honor goes to New Mexico at 21.5 percent.

But under the alternative method, California rises to the top at 23.4 percent while New Mexico drops to 16 percent and other states decline to as low as 8.7 percent in Iowa.

The only other state to approach California in the alternate rankings is Nevada at 20 percent, although Washington, D.C., is close at 22.4 percent.

Ever since the Census Bureau first published its “supplemental poverty measure” rankings that placed California at the top a few years ago, poverty has evolved into a political issue. 

It’s now routinely cited in official reports and legislative documents, and Neel Kashkari, the Republican candidate for governor, has tried to make it an issue in his uphill challenge to Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown, even spending several days in Fresno posing as a homeless person to dramatize it.

The Public Policy Institute of California used a similar methodology last year to gauge poverty in the state’s 58 counties, called a California Poverty Measure.

It pegged the statewide poverty rate at 22 percent and found some of the highest rates in the San Francisco Bay Area and coastal communities usually considered affluent due to their high costs of housing. Los Angeles had the highest rate in the state, 26.9 percent, followed by Napa at 25.5 percent.