Deep Poverty Stands in Stark Contrast to Vast Wealth

Additional Census Bureau data released yesterday provide a fuller picture of the Great Recession’s human cost. The share of the population living in deep poverty, with incomes below half of the federal poverty line (FPL), increased in 40 states, including California, between 2007 and 2010. Last year, more than two out of five Californians living in poverty – 2.5 million people – had annual incomes below half of the FPL, which was just $11,000 for a family of four with two children. That’s an income well below what’s sufficient for an adequate standard of living, particularly considering California’s high cost of living. Fair market rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Los Angeles, for example, totaled $17,000 last year.

The depth of poverty of millions of Californians stands in stark contrast to the vast wealth in our state. The latest Franchise Tax Board (FTB) data show that millionaires, who represent just 0.2 percent of California personal income taxpayers, had combined adjusted gross incomes of $104 billion in 2009. That’s 11 times the income needed to lift every single Californian out of poverty ($9.3 billion), according to the latest Census data. The data also show that California ranks seventh in the nation for the widest gap between rich and poor. That gap has widened in both California and the nation as a whole over the past generation as income gains largely accrued to the very top of the distribution. The total income for all of California’s taxpayers increased by over $200 billion between 1987 and 2009 – the longest period for which FTB data are available. More than a third of that increase (35.5 percent) – about $78 billion – went to the wealthiest 1 percent. That’s an amount just less than the size of California’s 2011-12 budget going to fewer than 145,000 people – approximately equal to the number of residents of Humboldt County.

— Alissa Anderson