How to Cut Poverty in California? Prioritize It as a Goal

Millions of Californians are not benefiting from our state’s growing economy, as we explain in our analysis of the new Census poverty figures, and a majority of people in our state view poverty as a big problem, according to the latest poll by the Public Policy Institute of California. So what can California do to address this problem?

There was no shortage of ideas presented during our recent Twitter chat on poverty, at #CutPovertyCA. Dozens of participants highlighted specific policies that would reduce economic hardship in our state, including expanding access to affordable housing, ending the punitive and counterproductive CalWORKs family cap policy, broadening the reach of the new California Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), and boosting state support for SSI/SSP grants, which help low-income seniors and people living with disabilities pay for basic living expenses.

One clear takeaway from our Twitter chat is that cutting poverty is not a matter of figuring out what works, it’s a matter of making it a state priority. For example, Frank Mecca, executive director of the County Welfare Directors Association of California and member of the Budget Center’s board, tweeted:

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Jessica Bartholow, legislative advocate at the Western Center on Law & Poverty, echoed this sentiment in her tweet:

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And our executive director, Chris Hoene, added that to cut poverty California needs to:

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So if poverty is a problem that policymakers have the tools to address, how can we build greater support for such policies? A few potential answers emerged from our recent Google Hangout, Perspectives on Poverty. Panelist Jose Padilla, executive director of California Rural Legal Assistance, said that to build the political will to cut poverty, “everybody in this state must feel that they are responsible for it.” Indeed, it should be the responsibility of all adults – not just parents and grandparents, but also teachers, neighbors, coaches, and policymakers – to make sure that our state’s children have the opportunity to reach their full potential, in large part because we all have a stake in their outcomes. California’s future largely depends on children whose entire lives will be shaped by the extent to which our state invests in their education, health, and general well-being.

Perhaps more policymakers would prioritize such investments if they recognized that “poverty has a long-lasting impact,” as Jessica Bartholow said during our panel discussion. “The reach of poverty goes well beyond a child’s experience of hunger or a family’s experience of homelessness and impacts their lives in many ways into their future.”

Indeed, much research has shown that growing up in poverty can limit children’s life chances. One recent study found that children who experienced poverty at some point before age 18 were less likely to complete high school, attend or complete college, and maintain steady employment in early adulthood. Another study found that adults who experienced persistent poverty as children were significantly more likely to live in poverty in early adulthood. These findings show that poverty costs us all in terms of lost human and economic potential.

Fortunately, we also know that the right policy choices can improve children’s outcomes and put us on a path to a stronger California. For instance, studies have linked access to public supports like food assistance and tax credits for working families to better health and education outcomes for children.

As the Governor and legislative leaders develop their policy priorities for next year, they should keep in mind some basic facts: Millions of Californians are still living in poverty, most people in our state are concerned about this problem, and policymakers can significantly reduce economic hardship and help more families and individuals advance if they choose to make this a state priority.

– Alissa Anderson