Just the FACTS

Child Poverty in California

  • Child poverty rates remain high even as the economy recovers.
    According to official poverty statistics, 23.4% of children in California did not have enough resources to make ends meet in 2013. This is down from 2012 (24.0%). The official poverty measure is a long-standing yardstick that does not account for differences in the cost of living across the U.S., a range of family needs, or the boost that safety net benefits give to many families, especially those with children.
  • Without the social safety net, child poverty would be much higher.
    The California Poverty Measure (CPM), a joint research effort by PPIC and the Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality, is a more comprehensive approach to gauging poverty in California. It finds that the child poverty rate in 2012 was 24.9%, virtually unchanged from 2011. Without safety net resources, the CPM would count 38.5% of children in poverty. Because many safety net programs focus specifically on helping children, the social safety net keeps a larger share of children than adults from falling into poverty.
  • CalFresh and the EITC help the most children avoid poverty.
    The largest social safety net programs are CalFresh (California’s food stamps program), CalWORKs (cash assistance for families with children), the federal Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), the federal Child Tax Credit (CTC), Supplemental Security Income (SSI/SSP), federal housing subsidies, and school breakfast and lunch. CalFresh lowered the child poverty rate by the largest amount (4.6 percentage points), followed by the EITC (4.0 points), and the CTC, CalWORKs, school meals, and housing subsidies (each by 1.5 to 2.4 points). These differing effects are overlapping and reflect, in part, the scale and scope of each program as well as participation rates among eligible families.
  • Child poverty is high but would be even higher in the absence of the social safety net

    Figure 1

    SOURCE: Estimates from the 2012 California Poverty Measure.

    NOTES:"All programs” bar shows the combined effect of the individual programs listed below—but the individual program bars do not sum to top bar due to overlapping program effects.

  • In total, about half of California’s children are living in or near poverty.
    In 2012, 5.1% of California’s children were in deep poverty (living in families with less than half of the resources needed to make ends meet). This rate is essentially the same as it was in 2011. At the same time, 25.0% of children lived above, but fairly close to, the poverty line. All told, 49.9% of children in the state were poor or near poor in 2012.
  • Child poverty varies substantially across California counties and regions.
    In 2012, Monterey and San Benito Counties combined had the highest estimated child poverty rate in California: 32.4% of the counties’ children were poor. Rates in Los Angeles (29.9%), Tulare (29.6%), and Orange County (27.8%) were similarly high. Imperial County had the lowest poverty rate for children (10.4%).
  • Child poverty rates vary widely across California’s counties

    Figure 2

    SOURCE: Estimates are from the 2012 California Poverty Measure.

    NOTE: For some counties, poverty rates cannot be calculated individually. Those counties are grouped. All estimates are subject to uncertainty due to sampling variability. The uncertainty is greater for less populous counties and county groups (because of smaller survey sample sizes). Across counties, the precision ranges from ± 1% to ± 14%.

  • Poverty rates are higher among Latino and African American children than among white and Asian children.
    The poverty rate for Latino children (34.6%) was more than double that of Asian (15.6%) and white (12.2%) children in California. The poverty rate among African American children was also high (23.3%). Children under 5 had somewhat higher poverty rates than older children (27.2% vs. 24.1%).
  • Most poor children are in working families.
    In California, 80.7% percent of poor children live in families with at least one adult working. The majority (60.6%) live in families with at least one full-time worker, and an additional 20.1% have at least one parent or other adult working part-time.

SOURCES: All estimates are based on the California Poverty Measure unless otherwise noted. Official poverty statistics are based on the 2012 American Community Survey. For more on the CPM, see Bohn et al., The California Poverty Measure (PPIC, 2013) and Wimer et al., Poverty and Deep Poverty in California (2015).

Authors

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Sarah Bohn
Research Fellow
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Caroline Danielson
Senior Fellow
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Monica Bandy
Research Associate