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Legislative District Data Offers Close-Up View of Poverty

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Poverty varies widely across California’s 58 counties—from 13.1% in Placer County to 24.9% in Los Angeles County—according to data from the California Poverty Measure (CPM). The CPM is an ongoing collaboration between PPIC and the Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality that adjusts for differing housing costs across counties and incorporates major social safety net programs like CalFresh food assistance and the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC).

For the first time, PPIC recently released CPM data showing poverty rates and the effects of safety net programs not just for counties, but also for state assembly and senate districts and US congressional districts.

Congressional districts provide a more detailed view of densely populated areas. While counties have static geographic boundaries, California’s congressional districts are adjusted after every decennial census to equalize their populations (in 2010, each of the 53 districts contained 702,905 people). This means that Los Angeles County’s 9.9 million residents, for example, vote in 18 different congressional districts. The county’s average poverty rate of 24.9% reflects both the 13.4% in poverty in District 33 and the 37.0% in District 40, a stark difference illustrated in the map below.

As might be expected, district-level data show even wider geographic variations in poverty than county-level data, from 12.4% in District 15, which includes parts of Alameda and Contra Costa Counties, to 37.0% in District 40, in Los Angeles County. The CPM also shows that without safety net programs, the variation would be even more extreme, ranging from 16.2% in District 33 to 50.3% in District 40.

While counties often take the lead in implementing programs that mitigate poverty, many funding decisions related to social safety net programs are made at the state and federal levels. Understanding the distribution of poverty can help policymakers at all levels develop short- and long-run strategies to alleviate it in every area of the state.

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