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The COVID-19 Crisis Is Affecting Low-Income Workers

Caroline Danielson March 19, 2020
photo - Restaurant Cook

As California responds to COVID-19, its low-income workers face particularly urgent difficulties. These Californians are not necessarily at high risk of health complications from COVID-19, but they will be deeply affected by the economic consequences of the steps being taken by cities, counties, and regions to contain the outbreak and protect public health.

About 12.3 million Californians in families headed by working age adults live in or near poverty; a majority (58%) are Latino, while 21% are white, 12% are Asian, 6% are African American. About 1.5 million live in deep poverty (with resources less than half of the poverty line), while 4.3 million are just below the poverty line and 6.5 million are just above it (within one and one and a half times the poverty line).

The largest number of poor and near-poor Californians live in Los Angeles County (about 4 million), followed by the Bay Area (about 2 million).

figure - Millions of Working-age Californians and Their Families Live in or Near Poverty

The federal and state governments have been developing a range of short-term measures that promise to bolster the resources of Californians who are economically affected by this public health emergency. These measures include the expansion of food assistance benefits, paid sick leave, and unemployment benefits.

Steps like these are important because 12.2% of California’s working adults live in poverty, and after-tax income from work makes up 72% of poor and near-poor family resources, on average. A loss of $500 in annual income would push an additional 215,000 Californians into poverty, while a loss of $1,000 would put an additional 425,000 Californians below the poverty line. In short, even a relatively small financial loss can make a big difference.

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