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Poverty and Well-being in California

Caroline Danielson, Sarah Bohn September 21, 2015

California is one of 12 states in which poverty declined last year, according to newly released US Census statistics. The state’s official poverty rate is down by 0.6 percentage points to 16.4%, from 17.0% in 2012. But poverty in the state remains high relative to the early 2000s. In 2007, the year the Great Recession began, California’s official poverty rate was 12.4%.

Official poverty statistics are intended to capture cash resources at hand. In other research we have analyzed the role of social safety net programs in augmenting cash resources and helping families to avoid dire economic need.

It’s important to note that jobs are still the biggest source of income for Californians overall, even among those living in poverty. And good news out last week shows the economy is continuing to improve—the unemployment rate in California is now 6.1%, less than half of what it was during the worst of the economic crisis.

At the same time we are all aware that well-being is complex, so it is instructive to look at multiple measures. Food insecurity—defined as ranging from worrying about being able to afford enough food to actually cutting back on meals—is also down from a recent high of 16.2% in California (across 2009–2011) and is estimated to be 13.5% for 2012–2014. In addition, the number of homeless in California—often not well-represented in indicators of need—is estimated to have declined by 13% between 2012 and 2014. The share of all California children with a validated report of maltreatment (most commonly for reasons of neglect) has also dropped, although this appears to be a longer term trend that predates the recession.

Broadly speaking, then, trends in well-being appear to be positive, even though we have a ways to go before poverty and other indicators decline to the levels experienced before the recession.

News and analysis of California policy issues from PPIC

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