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Interactive: Many Californians Live in or Near Poverty

Tess Thorman March 4, 2020
photo - Restaurant Kitchen Worker

More than 7 million Californians are “near poor”: out of poverty, but within 1.5 times the poverty line, according to the California Poverty Measure. The near-poor population is slightly larger than the poor population, and many could be pushed into poverty by small expenses.

In California, a near-poor family of four who rents has annual resources that range between $32,500 and $48,800. Adults with less education and fewer work hours, renters, African Americans, and Latinos often have the highest poverty and near-poverty rates. Disparities that persist across poor and near-poor groups are reminders that the poverty threshold is not a hard line where economic hardship ends.

Among adults, full-time work does not remove the risk of poverty: 21% of people ages 25–64 working full-time, full-year jobs are in or near poverty. These full-time workers are more likely to live in near poverty (13.9%) than in poverty (7.1%). At the same time, adults in less than full-time jobs live in near poverty at about the same rate (19.7%) as those with no work (20.9%). But they are less likely to live in poverty (22.3%) than those with no work (32%).

Resources from social safety net programs play a substantial role in moving people out of poverty—2.7 million more Californians would be poor if not for the social safety net. However, many of those moved out of poverty nonetheless live in near poverty, as broader factors like the cost of housing and available jobs play key roles in the resources they have on hand.

As California policymakers address poverty through tax credits, safety net programs, and housing policies, near-poverty rates provide another view into the state’s lowest-income populations. Reducing poverty in California will require attention to how families can be lifted out of poverty and also positioned for long-term economic security.

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