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Press Release · February 22, 2017

High Rates of Child Poverty Found Even in State’s Most Prosperous Regions

Strategies That Vary With Geography Could More Effectively Reach Poor Families

SAN FRANCISCO, February 22, 2017—Nearly every region in California includes areas with very high rates of poverty among young children, according to a report released today by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC).

Poverty varies widely across regions among children age 5 and younger. It is lowest—around 20 percent—in Northern California and highest—nearly 30 percent—in Los Angeles and the Central Coast. Yet variation within regions and counties can be greater than these broader differences. For example, Los Angeles County has both the lowest and highest estimated poverty rates in the state: only 4 percent in an area that includes Redondo Beach, Manhattan Beach, and Hermosa Beach in the southwestern part of the county and 68 percent in the southcentral part.

“In nearly every region in the state—even the most prosperous—we find local areas with very high rates of poverty among young children,” said Sarah Bohn, PPIC research fellow, who coauthored the report with PPIC senior fellow Caroline Danielson. “Interventions that take geographic differences into account could help us effectively reach more poor families.”

The report, Geography of Child Poverty in California, accompanies an online interactive map that allows for in-depth exploration of poverty—and characteristics of poor children—at the local, regional, and state levels.

Among the report’s key findings:

  • One-quarter of California’s young children—754,000—live in poverty. For the average young child in poverty, a family’s total resources, including earnings and benefits from safety net programs, are below $26,100 per year for a family of four. Latino children and children with immigrant, young, or single parents are much more likely to be poor. Interventions that direct efforts toward children with one or more of these characteristics hold promise for reaching more children living in poverty.
  • Parents in higher-cost regions are more likely to be working—not surprising because these regions tend to offer more jobs and higher wages. In the Bay Area, Central Coast, and Orange County, between 74 and 81 percent of young children in poverty have at least one parent working full- or part-time, compared to less than 65 percent in inland and northern parts of the state. In inland regions, improving employment readiness and job opportunities can help reduce poverty.
  • Despite higher earnings, poor families with young children in the Bay Area, Orange County, and San Diego County are more likely to have housing costs that exceed half of total family resources. These families are also more likely than those in inland and northern regions to live in overcrowded housing. Efforts to increase access to affordable housing—through construction and more housing subsidies—can help alleviate poverty.
  • Safety net programs reduce child poverty and have more impact in lower-cost regions. Without the safety net—programs such as CalFresh, CalWORKS, the federal Earned Income Tax Credit, federal housing subsidies, and school meals—poverty rates among young children would be 24 percentage points higher in the Central Valley and Sierra region, compared to 8–9 points higher in the Bay Area and Orange County. Poor families in higher cost regions are less likely to be eligible for safety net programs, which usually do not account for variation in the cost of living. In the long term, adjusting eligibility and benefits to accommodate differences in the cost of living deserves further consideration. In the short term, access to these programs can be increased even without expanding their scope.

The report is supported with funding from the LA Partnership for Early Childhood Investment and Sunlight Giving.


The Public Policy Institute of California is dedicated to informing and improving public policy in California through independent, objective, nonpartisan research. We are a public charity. We do not take or support positions on any ballot measure or on any local, state, or federal legislation, nor do we endorse, support, or oppose any political parties or candidates for public office. Research publications reflect the views of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of our funders or of the staff, officers, advisory councils, or board of directors of the Public Policy Institute of California.