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    • Voter registration is up; the shares of Democrats and independents have increased.
      Eight in ten eligible adults (83%) are registered to vote in California as of July; this is a notable increase from the registration rate in July 2016 (73%), the year of the last presidential election. The share of the 20.9 million registered voters who are Democrats (46.3%) has increased 45.1% in 2016), while the share of Republicans (24%) has declined (from 27.1%). The share who say they are independent (also known as “decline to state” or “no party preference” voters) has been increasing and is now 24%, up from 23.3% in 2016. Our surveys indicate that 47% of those we consider most likely to vote are Democrats, while 26% are Republicans and 22% are independents.
    • Most independent likely voters lean toward a major party.
      In surveys over the past year, independent likely voters have been somewhat more likely to lean Democratic (46%) than Republican (37%); 17% did not lean toward either party. These shares have shifted slightly since 2016, when 41% leaned Democratic, 32% leaned Republican, and 27% did not lean toward either party. Independent likely voters are more likely to be moderate (41%) than liberal (27%) or conservative (32%).
    • Ideological and partisan divides are stark.
      Ideological and partisan divisions are especially evident in beliefs about the role of government. For example, when asked about the role of government, 75% of Democrats say they would rather pay higher taxes and have a state government that provides more services, while 80% of Republicans would prefer to pay lower taxes and have fewer services. Independents are divided (48% higher taxes, more services, 47% lower taxes, fewer services). Overall, three in four (77%) Republican likely voters say they are conservative, while 61% of Democratic likely voters describe themselves as liberal.
    • Likely voters are disproportionately white; Democratic likely voters are more diverse.
      Whites make up only 41% of California’s adult population but comprise 55% of likely voters. In contrast, Latinos make up 35% of the state’s adult population but only 21% of likely voters. The shares of Asian American (15%) and African American (6%) likely voters are proportionate to their shares of the state’s adult population—14% for Asian Americans and 6% for African Americans. Just under half (46%) of Democratic likely voters are white; 26% are Latino, 16% are Asian American, and 9% are African American. An overwhelming majority (72%) of Republican likely voters are white; relatively few are Latino (13%), Asian American (10%), or African American (1%). Among independents, 54% are white, 20% are Latino, 17% are Asian American, and 5% are African American.
    • Demographic characteristics of likely voters vary across parties.
      Democratic likely voters are much more likely to be women (59%) than men (41%), while independents are much more likely to be men (59%) than women (41%); Republicans (53% men, 47% women) are more evenly divided. Independents (52%) are more likely to be college graduates than are Democrats (42%) and Republicans (35%). About one-third of Democrats (32%) have household incomes under $40,000, compared to about two in ten Republicans (22%) and independents (20%). Democrats (28%) are more likely to be young adults (ages 18 to 34) than are independents (20%) and Republicans (13%), while Republicans are more likely to be ages 55 and older (58%) than are Democrats (43%) or independents (41%).
    • Democrats and Republicans tend to live in different parts of the state.
      The regional distribution of likely voters mirrors that of the state’s overall adult population (26% Los Angeles, 21% San Francisco Bay Area, 18% Orange/San Diego, 16% Central Valley, 9% Inland Empire, 9% other counties). Most Democrats live in Los Angeles County (31%) or the San Francisco Bay Area (25%), while most Republicans live in the Central Valley (23%), Orange and San Diego Counties (23%), or Los Angeles County (19%). Independents are most likely to live in Los Angeles (26%) or the San Francisco Bay Area (24%).

California voter and party profiles

table - California Voter and Party Profiles

NOTES: “Likely voters” are registered voters meeting criteria on interest in politics, attention to issues, voting behavior, and intention to vote. For a full description of these criteria and regional definitions, visit www.ppic.org/wp-content/uploads/SurveyMethodology.pdf. For race and ethnicity, results are presented for Latinos, non-Hispanic whites, non-Hispanic Asian Americans, non-Hispanic African Americans, and non-Hispanic “other race” and multiracial adults.

 

Sources: Seven PPIC Statewide Surveys from September 2019 to July 2020, including 11,725 adults and 7,243 likely voters. California Secretary of State, Report of Registration, August 2020. US Census Bureau, 2014–2018 American Community Survey.


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    • Eight in ten are registered to vote; independent registration continues to increase.
      As of July 2020, 20.9 million of California’s 25.1 million eligible adults were registered to vote. At 83% of eligible adults, this is an increase from the registration rate in July 2016 (73%), the year of the last presidential election. The share of registered voters who are Democrats (46.3%) has increased from 2016 (45.1%), while the share of Republicans (24%) has declined (27.1% in 2016). At the same time, the share of voters who say they are independent (also known as “decline to state” or “no party preference”) has been increasing and is now 24%, up from 23.3% in 2016.
    • Likely voters and unregistered adults lean Democratic and are ideologically mixed.
      Among likely voters in our surveys over the past year, 47% are Democrats, 26% are Republicans, 22% are independents, and 4% are registered with other parties. Of those we consider infrequent voters, 40% are independents, 36% are Democrats, 19% are Republicans, and 4% are registered with other parties. Among independent likely voters, 46% lean toward the Democratic Party, compared to 37% who lean toward the Republican Party and 17% who volunteer that they lean toward neither major party or are unsure. Among unregistered adults, 55% lean Democratic and 21% lean Republican; 24% lean toward neither party or are unsure. Ideologically, 37% of likely voters are politically liberal, 30% are moderate, and 33% are conservative. Among infrequent voters, 30% consider themselves liberal, 38% consider themselves moderate, and 32% consider themselves conservative. Unregistered adults are also ideologically mixed: 30% are liberal, 38% are moderate, and 31% are conservative.
    • Likely voters are disproportionately white.
      Whites make up only 41% of California’s adult population but 55% of the state’s likely voters. In contrast, Latinos comprise 35% of the adult population but just 21% of likely voters. Asian Americans make up 15% of adults and 14% of likely voters, while 6% of both adults and likely voters are African American. “Other race” and multiracial adults make up 3% of the adult population and 4% of likely voters. Four in ten (40%) infrequent voters are white, and 31% are Latino. Nearly six in ten unregistered adults are Latino (58%); fewer are white (22%), Asian American (15%), or African American (3%).
    • Likely voters tend to be older, more educated and affluent, homeowners, and US born.
      Californians ages 55 and older make up 33% of the state’s adult population but constitute 46% of likely voters. Young adults (ages 18 to 34) make up 32% of adults but only 22% of likely voters, while adults ages 35 to 54 are proportionally represented. Eight in ten likely voters either have some college education (38%) or are college graduates (43%); 19% have no college education. Almost half of likely voters (46%) have annual household incomes of $80,000 or more, while 27% earn between $40,000 and $80,000 and 27% earn $40,000 or less. A strong majority of likely voters (66%) are homeowners, while one-third (34%) are renters. In contrast, 68% of unregistered adults and 62% of infrequent voters are renters. The vast majority of likely voters (83%) were born in the United States (17% are immigrants). Women (51%) and men (49%) make up similar shares of California’s likely voters.
    • The regional distribution of likely voters matches the state’s adult population.
      The share of likely voters in each region mirrors the region’s share of the state’s overall adult population: Los Angeles County (26% of adults, 26% of likely voters), the San Francisco Bay Area (20% of adults, 21% of likely voters), Orange/San Diego Counties (17% of adults, 18% of likely voters), the Central Valley (17% of adults, 16% of likely voters), and the Inland Empire (11% of adults, 9% of likely voters). The largest shares of infrequent voters (28%) and unregistered adults (25%) live in Los Angeles County.

California’s likely voters

table - California's Likely Voters

NOTES: “Likely voters” are registered voters meeting criteria on interest in politics, attention to issues, voting behavior, and intention to vote; “infrequent voters” are registered voters who do not meet these criteria. For a full description of these criteria and regional definitions, visit www.ppic.org/wp-content/uploads/SurveyMethodology.pdf. For race and ethnicity, results are presented for Latinos, non-Hispanic whites, non-Hispanic Asian Americans, non-Hispanic African Americans, and non-Hispanic “other race” and multiracial adults.

 

Sources: Seven PPIC Statewide Surveys from September 2019 to July 2020, including 7,243 likely voters, 2,278 infrequent voters, and 2,100 unregistered adults. California Secretary of State, Report of Registration, August 2020. US Census Bureau, 2014–2018 American Community Survey.


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    • Latinos, Asian Americans, and African Americans are less likely to vote than whites.
      Our surveys over the past year indicate that, among adult citizens, 47% of Latinos, 54% of Asian Americans, and 54% of African Americans are likely to vote, compared to 65% of non-Hispanic whites. The state’s likely voters are disproportionately white: according to US Census estimates, whites make up 41% of the state’s adult population, but our surveys find that they comprise 55% of the state’s likely voters. Latinos—California’s largest racial/ethnic group—represent 35% of the adult population, but they account for only 21% of those most likely to vote. Asian Americans comprise 15% of the adult population and 14% of likely voters. The share of African American likely voters matches their representation in the adult population (6%).
    • Most African American, Latino, and Asian American likely voters are Democrats.
      An overwhelming majority of African American likely voters (73%) and a majority of Latino (58%) and Asian American (54%) likely voters are registered as Democrats; far fewer are registered as Republicans (5% African Americans, 16% Latinos, 19% Asian Americans). Party registration among white likely voters is more evenly divided, with 40% registered as Democrats, 34% as Republicans, and 21% as independents (previously called “decline to state” and now called “no party preference” voters).
    • Latino and white likely voters are more ideologically divided.
      Thirty-seven percent of Latino likely voters identify themselves as politically liberal, while 32% identify as middle-of-the-road and 31% identify as conservative. White likely voters are as likely to identify as liberal (37%) as they are to identify as conservative (37%); 26% call themselves middle-of-the-road. African American and Asian American likely voters are much more likely to be ideologically liberal (38% and 43%, respectively) than conservative (22% and 24%).
    • Latino and Asian American likely voters tend to be young; income and education levels vary.
      Latino (72%) and Asian American (71%) likely voters are more likely than African American (47%) and white (43%) likely voters to be younger than 55. Indeed, about four in ten Asian American (36%) and Latino (38%) likely voters are younger than 35, compared to only 11% of African Americans and 14% of whites. One in four Latino likely voters (25%) and about one in three African American likely voters (35%) are college graduates, compared to 44% of white and 64% of Asian American likely voters. Pluralities of Latino and African American likely voters (38% and 37%) have household incomes of less than $40,000, while about one in three earn $80,000 or more (32% Latinos, 34% African Americans). In contrast, about half or more of Asian American and white likely voters (60% and 50%) earn $80,000 or more.
    • Most likely voters are US born, but half of Asian American likely voters are immigrants.
      Nearly all African American (96%) and white (94%) likely voters are native-born US citizens, compared to 70% of Latino likely voters; Asian American likely voters are equally as likely to be naturalized as native-born citizens (50% to 50%). In 2020 surveys, strong majorities of African American (91%), Asian American (75%), and Latino (72%) likely voters have disapproved of the way President Trump is handling his job, as have majorities of white likely voters (56%). Overwhelming majorities of African American (87%), white (84%), Asian American (75%), and Latino (72%) likely voters think they can trust the federal government in Washington to do what is right only some of the time or none of the time.

Race and voting in California

table - Race and Voting in California

NOTES: “Likely voters” are registered voters meeting criteria on interest in politics, attention to issues, voting behavior, and intention to vote. For a full description of these criteria and regional definitions, visit www.ppic.org/wp-content/uploads/SurveyMethodology.pdf. For race and ethnicity, results are presented for Latinos, non-Hispanic whites, non-Hispanic Asian Americans, non-Hispanic African Americans, and non-Hispanic “other race” and multiracial adults.

 

Sources: Seven PPIC Statewide Surveys from September 2019 to July 2020, including 7,243 likely voters. 2014–2018 American Community Survey 5-year estimates, US Census Bureau.


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      • CalFresh is the state’s largest food assistance program.
        The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)—called CalFresh in California and sometimes known as food stamps—is the largest food assistance program in the nation. Together with school meals and WIC, CalFresh provides a nutrition safety net for low-income Californians. Between January and March 2020, before the coronavirus pandemic prompted shelter-in-place orders, an average of 4.1 million Californians living in 2.2 million households received CalFresh benefits, with each individual receiving an average of $123 monthly. By June 2020, 4.8 million Californians in 2.6 million households received CalFresh benefits, and each participant received an average of $166 monthly. California has a small state-funded program ($50 million for state fiscal year 2018–19) to assist green card holders ineligible for federal benefits.
      • During the pandemic, federal and state changes expanded access.
        The federal Family First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), passed in March 2020, preserved and expanded access in key ways. First, the FFCRA temporarily suspended time-limited benefits for certain adults ages 18 to 49 without dependents. Second, emergency supplementary benefits were expanded to the maximum for families previously receiving smaller amounts. Further, California was federally approved to launch a pilot that enables CalFresh households to buy groceries online from certain retailers. The state was also able to waive, or extend timeframes for, some paperwork and interview requirements. However, in contrast to the last recession, benefits have not to date been increased for all families, and certain state waiver requests—for example, to relax requirements that limit access for postsecondary students—were denied.
      • The federal government underwrites most benefits.
        In addition to funding most of CalFresh, the federal government determines how benefits change with household incomes and sets other key rules. The state determines some aspects of eligibility and oversees county administration of the program. After allowed deductions for certain expenses such as housing and child care, families must have income under 100% of the federal poverty line to qualify. In 2020, this translated to an annual adjusted income of about $26,000 for a family of four. Unlike many safety net programs, CalFresh does not only target families with children; households with no children made up more than half of all participating households in 2018.
      • CalFresh lowers poverty and supports local economies.
        CalFresh plays an important role in mitigating poverty in California. Without the program, nearly 700,000 additional Californians would be in poverty. CalFresh also serves as a fiscal stimulus to the economy: low-income individuals tend to spend their benefits quickly and use the cash freed up by their benefits on other essentials. A recent national analysis finds that a $1 billion increase in SNAP benefits would raise GDP by $1.54 billion during recessions.

    CalFresh moves nearly 700,000 Californians out of poverty

    Table: CalFresh moves nearly 700,000 Californians out of poverty

    SOURCE: California Poverty Measure (CPM) data for 2016–18.

    NOTES: Numbers are rounded to the nearest 100 and indicate those with family resources under the CPM poverty line if CalFresh is excluded from the calculation. Counties whose poverty rates cannot be calculated individually are grouped. Asterisks (*) indicate counties with fewer than 2,000 children in the sample. All estimates are subject to uncertainty due to sampling variability; uncertainty is greater for less-populous counties and county groups because of smaller sample sizes. Children are age 0‒17 and adults are 18 or older. All family members (not just direct recipients) are assumed to share resources from CalFresh and other sources. For more about the CPM, see our poverty fact sheet. For more county-level information and for poverty rates by state assembly, state senate, and federal congressional districts, see our interactive maps.

      • CalFresh participants reflect the state’s diversity.
        The share of eligible Californians who participate in CalFresh has been growing. In 2018, 71% of eligible Californians accessed benefits. California’s shares of naturalized citizens (19%), refugees (15%), and other noncitizens (15%) participating in CalFresh are among the highest nationwide, reflecting the state’s large immigrant population as well as its racial/ethnic diversity. Revisions to the public charge rule, which may deter immigrants from using benefits for which they are eligible, would have an outsize effect in California; implementation of the rule has been subject to legal proceedings. Regionally, participation rates are higher (over 90%) in inland counties such as Fresno, San Bernardino, and Tulare, while Bay Area counties tend to have lower rates, although the range is wide (37% to 96%). In Los Angeles County, the largest county in the state, 74% of eligible Californians accessed benefits.

    CalFresh participants are racially and ethnically diverse

    Figure: CalFresh participants are racially and ethnically diverse

    SOURCE: California Department of Social Services, CF 358S and CF 358F.

    NOTES: “NH/PI” refers to Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander. “Southeast Asian” is a combination of the Cambodian, Filipino, Laotian, and Vietnamese categories, and “South and East Asian” is a combination of the Asian Indian, Chinese, Korean, and Japanese categories. Ethnic breakdowns for other racial groups were not available. Percentages based on author calculations from program participation on July 2019. “Other/multiracial” includes 4.6% where case contact’s race was undetermined.

This year’s California Poverty Measure estimates describe poverty in 2018—using the most up-to-date data available—and so do not cover the economic impact of COVID-19.

  • Despite improvements, the official poverty rate remains high. According to official federal poverty statistics, 12.8% of Californians lacked enough resources—about $25,500 per year for a family of four—to meet basic needs in 2018. This represents a modest decline from 13.3% in 2017 and is slightly above the lowest recent rate of 12.4% (in 2007). Moreover, the official poverty measure does not account for California’s housing costs or other critical family expenses and resources.
  • Poverty in California is even higher when key family needs and resources are factored in.
    The California Poverty Measure (CPM), a joint research effort by PPIC and the Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality, takes a comprehensive approach to poverty across the state. It accounts for the cost of living and a range of family needs and resources, including safety net benefits. According to the CPM, 17.6% of Californians (about 6.8 million) lacked enough resources—$34,200 per year for a family of four, on average—to meet basic needs in 2018. This is nearly identical to the rate in 2017. Poverty was higher among children (18.8%) and adults age 65 and older (19.0%), and lower among adults age 18–64 (16.8%).
  • More than a third of Californians are living in or near poverty.
    Nearly one in five (17.6%) Californians were not in poverty but lived fairly close to the poverty line (up to one and a half times above it). All told, more than a third (35.2%) of state residents were poor or near poor in 2018. But the share of Californians in families with less than half the resources needed to meet basic needs was 5.1%, a deep poverty rate that is about the same as official poverty statistics indicate.
  • Without social safety net programs, more Californians would live in poverty.
    The largest social safety net programs kept an estimated 7.0% of Californians out of poverty in 2018. Most safety net programs are designed to prioritize children, and in 2018 kept 12.8% of children out of poverty. The combined federal and state Earned Income Tax Credits (EITCs) lowered poverty rates most, by 1.7 points overall, and CalFresh lowered the overall poverty rate by 1.6 points; the federal Child Tax Credit (CTC) lowered the rate by 1.2 points. CalWORKs lowered the rate by 0.8 points. These differing effects reflect program scale and scope as well as participation rates among eligible families.

Poverty would be even higher without the safety net, especially among children

Figure 1: Poverty would be even higher without the safety net, especially among children

SOURCE: Estimates from the 2018 CPM.

NOTES: “Increase in poverty if no safety net” segments show the estimated increment to the poverty rate if safety net resources are not counted. Program effects may overlap and are not simply additive. Children are ages 0–17. “All safety net programs” includes CalFresh (California’s main food assistance program), Earned Income Tax Credits (federal and state), CalWORKs (cash assistance for families with children), the Child Tax Credit (CTC), Supplemental Security Income (SSI/SSP), General Assistance (GA), federal housing subsidies, the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), and school meals.

    • Poverty rates and the effect of safety net programs vary widely across the state.
      Los Angeles (22.3%) and Santa Barbara (21.1%) Counties had the highest poverty rates (2016–2018 average). El Dorado County had the lowest rate, at 10.5%. As shown by PPIC’s interactive maps, rates vary even more widely (4.5% to 40.5%) across local areas and legislative districts. Safety net programs reduce poverty much more in inland areas: without them, poverty would be 12.6 points higher in the Central Valley and Sierra, but only 3.4 points higher in the Bay Area. In part, these differences reflect variations in eligibility driven by the cost of living.

Poverty rates vary widely across California’s counties

Figure 2: Poverty rates vary widely across California’s counties

SOURCE: Estimates from the 2016–2018 CPM combined.

NOTES: 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). The statewide margin of error is ±0.3 percentage points. The median county margin of error is ±2.0 percentage points. Margins of error calculated for a 99% confidence interval. For more county-level information and poverty rates by local area and state assembly, state senate, and federal congressional district, see our interactive maps.

  • Poverty remains dramatically higher among Latinos and less-educated adults.
    In 2018, 22.9% of Latinos lived in poverty, compared to 18.2% of African Americans, 15.9% of Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders, and 12.8% of whites, as PPIC’s interactive shows. Though the Latino poverty rate has fallen from 30.9% in 2011, Latinos remain disproportionately poor—comprising 51.4% of poor Californians but only 39.6% of the state population. Education continues to be tied to poverty rates: poverty was 7.7% among college graduates age 25–64 and 30.6% among adults age 25–64 without a high school diploma.
  • Most poor families in California are working.
    In 2018, 79.0% of poor Californians lived in families with at least one working adult, excluding families made up of adults age 65 and older. For 44.7% of those in poverty, at least one family member reported working full time for the entire year, while 33.9% had a family member who worked part time and/or part of the year.

Sources: All estimates are based on the California Poverty Measure (CPM) unless otherwise noted. Official poverty statistics in 2018 are from the ACS 1-year estimates available at data.census.gov. For more about the CPM, see Bohn et al., The California Poverty Measure (PPIC, 2013). For methodological changes that affect comparability with publications prior to 2016, see Bohn et al., The California Poverty Measure: 2014 (Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality, 2017).


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Who’s in Poverty in California?

    • One out of every eight US residents lives in California.
      With almost 40 million people (according to 2019 estimates), California is the nation’s most populous state—its population is much larger than that of second-place Texas (29 million) and third-place Florida (21 million). California’s population is projected to reach 45 million people by 2050.
    • California experienced tremendous population growth throughout the 20th century…
      In 1900, California was home to fewer than 2 million people; by 1950 the population had reached 10 million. California’s population nearly tripled in the last half of the 20th century, and its growth rate remained much higher than that of the rest of the United States.

California’s population grew dramatically throughout the 20th century

figure - California’s Population Grew Dramatically Throughout the 20th Century

SOURCE: California Department of Finance estimates.

    • …but growth has slowed in recent decades.
      Over the past 20 years, California has experienced its slowest rates of growth ever recorded, and growth has been especially slow since 2017. According to estimates by the California Department of Finance, California’s population grew by 7.3% (or 2.7 million) from 2010 to the end of 2019; this rate is only slightly higher than the national rate of 6.3%. International migration to California has remained strong, with a net inflow of 1.5 million. But net domestic migration has been negative: about 900,000 more people left California for other states than came to California from other states. Natural increase—the difference between births and deaths—added 2.2 million residents. But birth rates are at record lows and the number of deaths is increasing as the population ages.
    • California’s population is diverse.
      No race or ethnic group constitutes a majority of California’s population: 39% of state residents are Latino, 37% are white, 15% are Asian American, 6% are African American, 3% are multiracial, and fewer than 1% are American Indian or Pacific Islander, according to the 2018 American Community Survey. Latinos surpassed whites as the state’s single largest ethnic group in 2014.

California’s population is increasingly diverse

figure - California’s Population Is Increasingly Diverse

SOURCE: California Department of Finance 1970–2000; American Community Survey 2018.

  • More than 10 million Californians are immigrants.
    According to 2018 estimates, 27% (or 10.6 million) of Californians are foreign born—this share is larger than that of any state (New York is second with 23%) and double the share nationwide (14%). The leading countries of origin for California immigrants are Mexico (4.0 million), the Philippines (848,000), China (798,000), Vietnam (515,000), India (532,000), El Salvador (462,000), and Korea (312,000). In recent years, immigration from Asia has outpaced immigration from Latin America by a two-to-one margin.
  • California is aging, but it is young compared to the rest of the country.
    California’s population is aging along with the baby boom; by 2030, about one in five Californians will be 65 or older. But the state’s population is slightly younger than that of the rest of the nation: according to 2018 Census Bureau estimates, the median age in California is 36.7, compared to 38.2 for the entire country. California has the fifth-youngest population in the country (Utah has the youngest).
  • Californians could be undercounted in the 2020 Census.
    The US Census Bureau is conducting its decennial population count this year. Three in four Californians belong to at least one demographic group that is “hard to count”: children, young men, Latino and African American residents, and renters. There is particular concern about low participation rates among non-citizens, given the Trump administration’s hostile posture toward immigration–and its attempt to put a citizenship question on the census form. Another cause for concern is the coronavirus pandemic, which has upended media and community-based outreach efforts and altered the timeline for in-person follow-ups by census workers.

 

Sources: California Department of Finance estimates and projections; US Census Bureau estimates; decennial censuses; American Community Survey.

    • The share of felony arrests dropped after Prop 47.
      In November of 2014, Prop 47 reclassified many lower-level drug and property offenses from felonies to misdemeanors. Partly as a result of this policy change, the felony proportion of arrests dropped to 26% for the next two years. Before this shift, the share of arrests for felony offenses had increased for decades, from 24% of all arrests in 1980 to 34% in 2014.
    • Violent offenses were the largest category of felony arrests.
      In 2016, arrests for violent crimes constituted the largest share (37%) of felony arrests statewide. Most violent felony arrests were assaults (75%), followed by robberies (14%). All other arrests for violent felony offenses, including rape, kidnapping, and homicide, each constituted less than 3% of the statewide total.
    • Property crimes were the second most common felony arrest.
      Felony property arrests constituted the second-largest group, with 19% of all felony arrests. Theft (37%), burglary (31%), and motor vehicle theft (25%) accounted for nearly all arrests for felony property crimes. Remaining felony arrests covered warrant arrests (14%), drug arrests (11%), and other arrests (18%).
    • African Americans are disproportionately arrested for felony offenses…
      In California, the felony arrest rate of African Americans was 3,229 per 100,000 in the population, or three and a half times the overall rate (897). The rate for Latinos (945) also exceeded the state average, while rates for whites (751) and Asian Americans (198) were lower. Overall, the felony arrest rate of African Americans was 4.3 times the white rate. This level of discrepancy extended to arrest rates for violent and property felonies, for which African American arrest rates were 5.3 times and 4.0 times higher than the white arrest rate, respectively.
    • …but African Americans are twice as likely as whites to be released without charges.
      Nearly 9% of African Americans were released after being cited or booked following an arrest for a violent felony, while about 5% of whites were released. For property felonies, 6% of African Americans were released after arrest compared to 3% of whites. That is, in a greater share of felony arrests involving African Americans, charges are not filed with the county district attorney.
    • The highest felony arrest rates occur in sparsely populated regions.
      The four most sparsely populated regions of California posted the highest felony arrest rates in 2016—each with more than 1,000 arrests per 100,000 in the population. The rate in the Northern region was highest, at 1,424. Conversely, the four most densely populated regions had the lowest felony arrest rates, with Orange County posting the lowest rate (659).

Rural regions had higher felony arrest rates in 2016

figure - Rural Regions Had Higher Felony Arrest Rates in 2016

SOURCE: Authors’ calculations based on California Department of Justice’s Monthly Arrest and Citation Register and California Department of Finance Population Data, 2016.

NOTE: Arrest rates calculated per 100,000 residents.

    • Greater racial/ethnic discrepancies appear in densely populated regions.
      The San Francisco Bay Area (6.4) and Orange County (5.8) had the largest disparities between African American and white felony arrest rates in 2016. The less-populated Sierra and Inland Empire regions had the smallest disparities (2.8 and 3.0). This pattern holds when comparing ratios of Latino to white felony arrest rates—Orange and Los Angeles Counties showed the strongest discrepancies, while in the Northern region whites were arrested for felonies at higher rates than Latinos.

Disparities in felony arrest rates appear most severe in the most populous regions

figure - Disparities in Felony Arrest Rates Appear Most Severe in the Most Populous Regions

SOURCE: Authors’ calculations based on California Department of Justice’s Monthly Arrest and Citation Register and California Department of Finance Population Data, 2016
.

NOTE: Maps show arrest rates per 100,000 residents in each of the relevant demographic groups, divided by arrest rates for whites.

    • The gap between rich and poor is especially wide in California.
      While California’s economy outperforms the nation’s, its level of income inequality exceeds that of all but five states. Families at the top of the income distribution in California have 12.3 times the income of families at the bottom ($262,000 versus $21,000, for the 90th and 10th percentiles, respectively, in 2018), measured before taxes and safety net programs. The disparity is present throughout the state. Current government policies substantially narrow the gap between rich and poor. Nonetheless, Californians are concerned: according to the PPIC Statewide Survey, two-thirds think the gap between rich and poor is expanding, and 52% think the state government should do more to ensure all Californians have equal opportunities to get ahead.

Incomes and the income gap vary across California

table - Incomes and the income gap vary across California

SOURCE: Authors’ analysis of IPUMS ACS data (2018).

NOTES: The 90/10 ratio is a measure of the income gap, calculated as the ratio of the 90th percentile income to the 10th percentile income. Chart shows income before taxes and transfers, which includes income from earnings, business, investments, retirement, social security, and other sources. Dollar values adjusted to pertain to a family of four in 2018 dollars. Northern counties: Butte, Colusa, Del Norte, Glenn, Humboldt, Lake, Lassen, Mendocino, Modoc, Nevada, Plumas, Shasta, Sierra, Siskiyou, Tehama, and Trinity. Sacramento area counties: El Dorado, Placer, Sacramento, Sutter, Yolo, and Yuba. Bay Area counties: Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Napa, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Solano, and Sonoma. Central Valley and Sierra counties: Alpine, Amador, Calaveras, Fresno, Inyo, Kern, Kings, Madera, Mariposa, Merced, Mono, San Joaquin, Stanislaus, Tulare, and Tuolumne. Central Coast counties: Monterey, San Benito, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, and Ventura. Inland Empire counties: Imperial, Riverside, and San Bernardino.

    • The income gap is widening due to disproportionate gains for California’s highest earners…
      The large gap between the state’s top earners and others has grown substantially over the past four decades. Since 1980, incomes for families in the 90th percentile have increased by 60%, while incomes at the 50th percentile (median) and 10th percentile have grown much less (24% and 20% higher in 2018 than 1980).
    • …as the job market continues to favor more educated workers.
      Boom and bust economic cycles have exacerbated this trend of disproportionate growth for the top, reflecting a job market that favors college degree holders. For families where any member holds a four-year degree or higher, median income increased by 30% since 1980. It decreased slightly for all other families. Families with four-year degree holders earn $2.20 for every $1 that families without degree holders earn.
    • African American and Latino families are overrepresented at lower income levels.
      African American and Latino families make up 12% of those with incomes above the 90th percentile, despite comprising 43% of all families in California. African American and Latino families also have lower income overall: top-income Latino families ranked just above median-income white families in 2018. Such disparities reflect the fact that African American and Latino adults are overrepresented in low-wage jobs and have higher unemployment rates, and African American adults are less likely to be in the labor force. Many factors drive these trends, ranging from disparities around education, local job opportunities, and incarceration to discrimination in the labor market.

White and Asian families are overrepresented among the highest incomes in California

figure - White and Asian families are overrepresented among the highest incomes in California

SOURCE: Authors’ analysis of IPUMS ACS data (2018).

NOTES: Chart shows the overall share of Californians categorized by the race/ethnicity of their family head (first bar) and by their location in the income distribution. Income is calculated at the family level before taxes and safety net transfers, which includes income from earnings, business, investments, retirement, social security, and other sources.

  • A large wealth gap further exacerbates the income gap.
    If income falls short over a period of time, some families can draw from their accumulated income, or wealth. However, wealth is more unevenly distributed than income—meaning that low-income Californians have fewer overall resources to rely upon. In California, 20% of all net worth is concentrated in the 30 wealthiest zip codes, home to just 2% of Californians. African American and Latino families have much lower wealth levels compared white families; nationwide, the typical (median-wealth) white family has more than eight times the wealth of a typical African American or Latino family. While homeownership is an important component of wealth—and white and Asian families are more likely than others to own homes—other income-producing assets also play a major role in California’s wealth gap.
  • Income inequality would be greater without taxes or safety net programs.
    Major tax and safety net programs reduce inequality by 48%, according to the California Poverty Measure. Gains occur both from taxing high incomes and providing cash and safety net benefits such as the federal and state Earned Income Tax Credits, and food assistance from CalFresh, WIC, and school meals. This combination also reduces racial income inequality, shrinking the gap in median income by about 30% for African American and Latino families compared to white families. Education, regional economic development, transportation, and childcare policies are also critical tools for addressing income inequality.

 

Sources: American Community Survey (IPUMS USA); Chetty, et al. “The Fading American Dream: Trends in Absolute Income Mobility Since 1940” (Science, 2017); Current Population Survey (IPUMS-CPS); Dettling, et al. “Recent Trends in Wealth-Holding by Race and Ethnicity: Evidence from the Survey of Consumer Finances” (Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, 2017); Legislative Analyst’s Office, “California’s Geography of Wealth” (2019); UC Berkeley Labor Center, “Low Wage-Work in California” (2018).

Note: All dollar values in this fact sheet are adjusted to pertain to a family of four in 2018 dollars.

    • Racial disparities in arrests have decreased, but they still persist statewide.
      Racial disparities in arrests peaked in 1992 when the African American arrest rate—the number of arrests per 100,000 African Americans—was 3.6 times greater than the white arrest rate, and the Latino arrest rate was 1.8 times greater than the white arrest rate. Although these disparities have narrowed, in 2016 the African American arrest rate was still 3.0 times the white arrest rate, and the Latino arrest rate was 1.1 times as high.
    • Disparities in arrests between African Americans and whites are widespread.
      African Americans have higher arrest rates than whites in nearly all of California’s 58 counties. In counties with the largest racial disparities, the African American arrest rate is on average about six times higher than the white arrest rate, compared to almost double among counties with the lowest racial disparities. In contrast, the disparities between Latino and white arrest rates are less widespread. In fact, Latinos were arrested at lower rates than whites in 26 counties.
    • Racial disparities are larger in more affluent, less diverse counties.
      Demographics and economic conditions vary greatly across counties with lower and higher racial disparities. For instance, among California’s largest 49 counties, those with the greatest racial disparities between African Americans and whites have higher median household incomes ($76,700 per year) and lower average poverty rates (11.6%) than counties with the lowest racial disparities ($51,100 and 18.7%, respectively). Counties with higher educational attainment also tend to have greater racial disparities in arrests: the share of college graduates is 47.4% in the highest-disparity counties, compared with 20.5% in the lowest-disparity counties. Notably, counties with the largest racial disparities have lower shares of African American residents than counties with the lowest racial disparities (1.9% versus 4.5%).

Counties with larger racial disparities in arrests tend to have lower shares of African Americans and lower poverty rates, but they have higher shares of college graduates

Figure - Counties with Larger Racial Disparities in Arrests Tend To Have Lower Shares of African Americans and Lower Poverty Rates, but They Have Higher Shares of College Graduates

SOURCES: Authors’ calculations based on California Department of Justice’s Monthly Arrest and Citation Register and California Department of Finance Population Data, and the US Census Bureau’s Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates Program 2014–16.

NOTES: Arrest rates are the number of arrests made by law enforcement agencies per 100,000 residents. *Data available only for the 41 largest counties. Each bar reflects the average for the first (lowest) and fifth (highest) quintiles of counties grouped by the ratio of African American arrest rates divided by white arrest rates.

    • Felony arrest rates have fallen, especially for African Americans and Latinos.
      In 1992, the African American felony arrest rate was 7,217 per 100,000 residents, compared to 2,455 for Latinos and 1,198 for whites. Since then, the disparities in felony arrests rates have narrowed, with rates decreasing to 3,229 for African Americans (a 55% decline), 945 for Latinos (62% decline), and 751 for whites (37% decline). African Americans now constitute a smaller share of all felony arrests than in the past. In 2016, African Americans made up 20.5% of all felony arrests—a decline from 26.3% in 1992.
    • The overall share of felony arrests has decreased across racial/ethnic groups.
      In 2014, Proposition 47 reclassified several drug and property offenses from felonies to misdemeanors, which appears to have affected the overall shares of felony arrests. In 1992, arrests for property felonies represented 13.7% of all arrests of African Americans, 9.6% of Latino arrests, and 7.9% of white arrests. In contrast, the shares of felony property arrests were much smaller in 2016, constituting 6.6% of African American arrests, 5.6% of Latino arrests, and 5.0% of white arrests. The share of felony drug arrests also declined considerably for each racial/ethnic group, while the share of felony violent arrests increased slightly for each group.
    • Misdemeanors have grown as a share of all arrests.
      While the shares of violent and drug-related misdemeanors have increased, the share of misdemeanor property arrests has declined. In 1992, arrests for violent misdemeanors made up 4.7% of all arrests of African Americans, 3.2% of Latino arrests, and 4.5% of white arrests; in 2016, these shares grew to 7.5%, 5.9%, and 5.5%, respectively. Similarly, misdemeanor drug arrests have also grown as a share of all arrests, particularly for Latinos and whites. Once again, Proposition 47 likely contributed to this change in misdemeanor drug arrests. However, the share of misdemeanor property arrests decreased slightly—by less than a percentage point for whites and African Americans, and by 2.3 percentage points for Latinos.

Felony arrests now make up smaller shares of arrests across racial/ethnic groups

Figure - Felony Arrests Now Make Up Smaller Shares of Arrests across Racial/Ethnic Groups

SOURCE: Authors’ calculations based on California Department of Justice’s Monthly Arrest and Citation Register.

Sources: California Department of Justice’s Monthly Arrest and Citation Register, California Department of Justice Law Enforcement Personnel Survey, California Department of Finance Population Data, American Community Survey, US Census Bureau’s Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates Program, and the California Employment Development Department.

    • The water grid is a statewide network of storage and conveyance facilities.
      Most of the water supplies for California’s cities and farms depend on the capture and storage of winter rain and snow in surface reservoirs and aquifers. Storage alone is not enough, however. California also relies on thousands of miles of canals and aqueducts—as well as rivers—to move water to where it is needed. This network of above- and below-ground storage and conveyance systems—operated by diverse entities—serves as a “water grid.”
    • The grid provides multiple services, which are sometimes in conflict.
      The grid not only meets needs for water supply, it is also operated to safeguard downstream residents from harmful floods, protect fish and wildlife habitat, and support recreation. Many of the grid’s dams also generate hydropower, supplying about 15% of the state’s electricity on average. However, the many demands on the grid are sometimes in conflict. For example, flood protection works best when reservoirs are empty and can capture water from winter and spring storms. But water supply managers seek to fill reservoirs during these same times to meet summer demands. And the needs of hydropower, recreation, and the environment often conflict with both supply and flood control. The challenge for the grid’s managers is how to balance these competing objectives.
    • Important elements of the system are in poor condition.
      The state’s water infrastructure is aging. Two-thirds of California’s dams are at least 50 years old, and more than 90 need major upgrades to better handle large floods or withstand earthquakes. The aqueducts that convey water across the state are also facing problems. Three of the most important in the Central Valley—the California Aqueduct, the Delta-Mendota Canal, and the Friant-Kern Canal—have significant reductions in their capacity caused by land subsidence from excess groundwater pumping. Overuse of groundwater in many parts of the state has dried up drinking water and irrigation wells, harmed wetlands, and increased the energy costs associated with pumping groundwater. Strategic investments are needed to help California store and convey water more effectively and take better advantage of opportunities to trade it—an important way to reduce the social, economic, and environmental costs of water reductions.
    • Management of the grid is fragmented.
      The grid’s dams, canals, and aqueducts are owned and operated by a wide array of federal, state, regional, and local water agencies. This makes water accounting, management, and governance of the grid very complex. And although surface water and groundwater are physically connected, they are not explicitly linked in California water management practices. Implementing the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act should strengthen the surface water–groundwater connection.
    • The grid is ill-prepared to handle climate change.
      Five key climate pressures—warming temperatures, shrinking snowpack, shorter and more intense wet seasons, more frequent extreme wet and dry years, and rising seas—will make it harder to store water for droughts, manage floods, and protect freshwater ecosystems. Climate change is already affecting management of the grid. Warmer, more intense droughts—such as the one California experienced from 2012-16—increase pressures to draw down groundwater reserves and reservoirs. Warmer, more intense storms add stress to surface reservoirs. California’s water grid is not prepared to handle these mounting pressures. Yet the grid is also the state’s most valuable asset for adapting to the changes in store. Adapting to a more volatile climate will require more operational flexibility to enable storage and conveyance facilities to work together as an integrated water supply and flood management system. Increasing the use of natural infrastructure such as restored floodplains can also help.

The water grid includes both surface and groundwater systems

figure - The Water Grid Includes Both Surface and Groundwater Systems

SOURCE: Developed by the PPIC Water Policy Center using information from the California Department of Water Resources.

NOTES: “Taf” is thousands of acre-feet. The top map shows 62 surface reservoirs with storage capacity greater than 100 taf, scaled to size. Their combined capacity is 36.5 million acre-feet (maf). The lines show rivers in blue and built conveyance infrastructure facilities (canals, aqueducts) colored by ownership. Not shown are more than 1,400 smaller reservoirs (with a total capacity of less than 7 maf). The bottom map shows 85 priority basins subject to the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA), and 43 areas where groundwater is already formally managed through adjudication (a court agreement on how much groundwater can be extracted—34 basins) or other special management arrangements (9 basins) as of August 2019.

 

Sources: Mount et al., Managing Drought in a Changing Climate (PPIC, 2019) (climate pressures); US Army Corps of Engineers (National Inventory of Dams); California Department of Water Resources (Listing of Dams, groundwater basins); California Energy Commission (Energy Almanac).

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