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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, 21.2% of children in California lived in families without enough resources to make ends meet in 2015. This is down significantly from 2014 (22.7%) 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 United States or within California, family needs like medical and child care expenses, 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 2014 was 23.1%, down somewhat from 2013 (23.6%). Without safety net resources, 37.1% of children would live in poverty. Because many safety net programs focus specifically on helping children, they 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), General Assistance (GA), the federal Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC; the state EITC is in place as of 2015), 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 and the EITC lowered the child poverty rate by the largest amount (4.1 and 4.0 percentage points, respectively). The CTC, CalWORKs, school meals, and housing subsidies reduced child poverty by 1.2 to 2.3 points each. 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 2014 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.

  • About half of California’s children are living in or near poverty, but few are in deep poverty.
    In 2014, 24.2% of children lived above, but fairly close to, the poverty line (up to one and a half times above it). All told, 47.2% of children in the state were poor or near poor. However, a much lower 5.2% of California’s children were in deep poverty (living in families with less than half the resources needed to make ends meet).
  • Child poverty varies substantially across counties and regions.
    Santa Barbara County had the highest child poverty rate in California: 30.8% of the county’s children were poor (2012–2014 average). Rates in Monterey/San Benito (combined, 30.2%) and Los Angeles (29.1%) Counties were similarly high. El Dorado County had the lowest poverty rate among children (13.0%).
  • Child poverty rates vary widely across California’s counties

    Figure 2

    SOURCE: Estimates from the 2012–2014 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.

  • Latino and African American children have higher poverty rates.
    The poverty rate for Latino children (31.6%) was more than double that of Asian American (13.5%) and white (11.9%) children in California in 2014. The poverty rate among African American children was also high (19.0%). Children under 5 had somewhat higher poverty rates than older children (23.6% vs. 22.8%).
  • Most poor children are in working families.
    In 2014, 81.8% of poor children in California lived in families with at least one working adult. Three-fifths of poor children (60.8%) lived in families with at least one full-time worker, and an additional fifth (20.9%) had at least one 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, including methodological changes that affect the comparability with prior publications, see Bohn et al., The California Poverty Measure (PPIC, 2013) and Wimer et al., CPM 2012: Poverty Rates and Safety Net Impacts across the State (2015).

Just the Facts: Poverty in California
Data Set: California Poverty by County
Interactive Map: California Poverty Rates by County


Sarah BohnSarah Bohn
Research Fellow
Caroline DanielsonCaroline Danielson
Senior Fellow
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