State Poverty Rate Remains at One in Six

Census Bureau data released today show that 6.4 million Californians – about one in six state residents – were living in poverty in 2011. That means there were more Californians living in poverty last year than there were residents of the cities of Los Angeles, San Diego, and San Francisco combined. The state’s poverty rate increased by a statistically significant 4.7 percentage points from 12.2 percent in 2006, the year before the Great Recession began, to 16.9 percent in 2011 – the highest poverty rate in 15 years. The change in the poverty rate between 2010 and 2011 was not statistically significant.

Children represent a disproportionate share of Californians living in poverty. While individuals under age 18 accounted for only one-quarter (24.7 percent) of the state’s residents in 2011, they accounted for more than one-third (35.6 percent) of Californians living in poverty that year. The child poverty rate also far exceeds that for adults. Approximately one out of four children (24.3 percent) lived in poverty last year, compared to 15.6 percent of Californians ages 18 to 64.

California’s child poverty rate is particularly troubling given research documenting lasting consequences for children raised in poverty, from lower levels of educational attainment to lower earnings as adults. Childhood poverty not only can mean a life of hardship for individual children – a reason for concern in its own right – but also can impose significant costs to society as a whole through these children’s lost potential.

The Census data released today highlight the importance of fostering a faster recovery in California’s job market by avoiding deeper state spending cuts that cost jobs. Poverty tends to rise and fall in tandem with unemployment, and the state’s jobless rate has remained stubbornly high – in recession-like double digits – due to limited job growth since the national recession ended more than three years ago. As we documented in a recent report, continued job losses due to budget cuts are partly to blame for holding back California’s job market recovery. K-12 public schools and community colleges, for example, have lost tens of thousands of jobs since the downturn ended, and these job losses have offset a portion of the state’s private sector job gains.

This November, voters will have the opportunity to approve new revenues that not only would prevent significant midyear cuts to public schools, colleges, and universities – the building blocks of a strong economy – but also could help avoid deeper cuts to the state’s social safety net at a time when millions of Californians remain in poverty in the aftermath of the Great Recession. By raising significant new revenues – predominantly from the wealthiest 1 percent of Californians – Proposition 30 would begin to reverse years of disinvestment in our state and create a solid foundation on which to rebuild, as we discuss in our analysis of the measure published yesterday.

— Alissa Anderson