Child Poverty in California
- Child poverty rates remain substantially higher than before the recession.
According to official poverty statistics, 19.9% of children in California lived in families without enough resources to make ends meet in 2016. This is down significantly from 2015 (21.2%) 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 such as medical or 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 21.6% of children (about 2.1 million) were in poverty in 2015, down substantially from 23.1% in 2014. Without safety net resources, 36.0% of children (about 3.4 million) 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 avoid poverty.
California’s largest social safety net programs for children continue to be CalFresh (California’s food stamps program), CalWORKs (cash assistance for families with children), the Earned Income Tax Credit (both the federal EITC and, as of 2015, the new CalEITC), 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. In 2015, CalFresh and the combined EITCs lowered the child poverty rate by the largest amount (4.0 percentage points each). CalWORKs, the CTC, housing subsidies, and school meals reduced child poverty by 1.5 to 2.3 points each. These differing effects reflect the scale and scope of each program as well as participation rates among eligible families.
- Close to half of California’s children live in or near poverty, but few are in deep poverty.
In 2015, 24.4% of children lived above, but fairly close to, the poverty line (up to one and a half times above it). All told, 46.0% of children in the state were poor or near poor. However, a much lower 4.7% of California’s children were in deep poverty (in families with less than half of the resources needed to make ends meet).
- Child poverty varies substantially across California counties and districts.
From 2013 to 2015, Santa Cruz County had on average the highest child poverty rate in California: 29.8%. Rates in Santa Barbara (28.8%) and Los Angeles (28.3%) Counties were also among the highest. Placer County had the lowest poverty rate among children (11.8%). Child poverty rates vary even more widely (from 7% to 49%) across state assembly, state senate, and US congressional districts.
- Ethnicity and parental education are both associated with child poverty.
The poverty rate for Latino children (29.6%) was more than double that of Asian American (14.4%) and white (11.5%) children in California in 2015. The poverty rate among African American children was also high (18.5%). The relationship between child poverty and parents’ educational attainment is striking. Among children in families where no adult had completed high school (about 9.3% of children), 53.0% were in poverty. Among families where someone held at least a bachelor’s degree, only 7.5% of children were poor. Children age 5 and under had somewhat higher poverty rates than older children (22.4% vs. 21.2%).
- Most poor children are in working families.
In 2015, 82.9% of poor children in California lived in families with at least one working adult. Three-fifths of poor children (62.2%) lived in families with at least one full-time worker, and an additional fifth (20.7%) had at least one adult in the family working part-time.
Child poverty is high but would be even higher in the absence of the social safety net
Child poverty rates vary widely across California’s counties
Sources: All estimates are based on the California Poverty Measure (CPM) unless otherwise noted. Official poverty statistics are from the American FactFinder. 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).