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Just the FACTS

Child Poverty in California

  • Child poverty rates remain substantially higher than before the recession.
    According to official poverty statistics, 22.7% of children in California did not have enough resources to make ends meet in 2014. This is down from 2013 (23.5%) but well above the recent low in 2007 (17.3%). The official poverty measure is a long-standing yardstick that does not account for differences in the cost of living across the US or within California, a range of other 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. We find that the child poverty rate in 2013 was 23.9%, down slightly from 2011 and 2012. Without safety net resources, 38.1% of children would live in poverty. Because many safety net programs focus specifically on helping children, social safety net programs keep a larger share of children than adults from falling into poverty.
  • CalFresh and the EITC help the most children to 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, the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), and school breakfast and lunch. CalFresh lowered the child poverty rate by the largest amount (4.5 percentage points), followed by the EITC (3.9 points), and the CTC, CalWORKs, housing subsidies, and school meals (each by 1.3 to 2.3 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 2

    SOURCE: Estimates from the 2013 CPM.

    NOTE: "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 2013, 5.0% 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 a small decrease from the deep poverty rate among children in 2012 (5.1%). At the same time, 24.9% of children lived above, but fairly close to, the poverty line. All told, 48.8% of children in the state were poor or near poor in 2013.
  • Child poverty varies substantially across California counties and regions.
    From 2011 through 2013, Monterey and San Benito Counties combined had the highest child poverty rate in California: 31.0% of the counties’ children were poor. Rates in Los Angeles (29.5%), Santa Barbara (29.1%), and Orange Counties (27.0%) were similarly high. El Dorado County had the lowest poverty rate for children (14.2%).
  • Child poverty rates vary widely across California’s counties

    Figure 2

    SOURCE: Estimates from the 2011–2013 CPM combined.

    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). For more information, see our data page.

  • Poverty rates are higher among Latino and African American children than among whiteand Asian children.
    The poverty rate for Latino children (32.6%) was more than double that of Asian (15.1%) and white (12.4%) children in California in 2013. The poverty rate among African American children was also high (24.0%). Children under five had somewhat higher poverty rates than older children (25.3% vs. 23.4%).
  • Most poor children are in working families.
    In 2013, 81.4% percent of poor children in California lived in families with at least one adult working. The majority of poor children (59.6%) lived in families with at least one full-time worker, and an additional 21.8% had at least one parent or other adult in the family working part time.

Sources: All estimates are based on the California Poverty Measure (CPM) unless otherwise noted. Official poverty statistics are based on the American Community Survey. For more about the CPM see Bohn et al., The California Poverty Measure (PPIC, 2013) and Wimer, Mattingly, Kimberlin, Danielson, and Bohn, California Poverty Measure.


Sarah Bohn
Research Fellow
Caroline Danielson
Senior Fellow