California’s greatest contradiction is almost Dickensian: In a state often cited as home to scores of billionaires, almost 4 in every 10 residents are living at or near the poverty line.
Some live in rural regions removed from the state’s economic recovery. Others live in bustling cities or even along the state’s world-famous coastline. Most impoverished adults, contrary to conventional wisdom, have a job. A disturbingly large number of the poor are children.
California has a poverty problem that won’t be easily solved, a reality made clear in a report released last week by the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California.
Researchers from PPIC and Stanford University, who believe federal poverty guidelines fail to capture true hardship in the state, adjusted their criteria to include things like the cost of living. When they did two counties stood out: Los Angeles and Santa Cruz, each with a roughly 24% poverty rate. Santa Barbara County isn’t far behind, nor is San Francisco.
And no group of Californians suffers more from the effects of poverty than Latinos. Though they are only 39% of the state’s population, Latino men, women and children constitute almost 53% of California’s poor. Education is also key: poverty is more than four times higher for adults without a high school diploma as it is for adults with a college degree.
Among the many sobering numbers in the PPIC report, few should sound the alarm more than those about children. Almost 46% of California’s children were at or near the threshold of poverty in 2016. Los Angeles and Santa Cruz counties also had the highest percentages of needy children. El Dorado County in the foothills east of Sacramento toward Lake Tahoe had the lowest rate of child poverty.