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Press Release · May 15, 2000

Poor In California More Likely To Live In Married-Couple Families

Unlike Nation, State Sees Increase in Poverty Rates Among Most Household Types

San Francisco, California, May 15, 2000 – Defying the conventional wisdom that increases in poverty reflect the rise of single parent families, a new analysis by the Public Policy Institute of California finds that poverty rates among “traditional” families – married couples with children – have grown substantially in California. This disturbing trend sets the state apart from the rest of the nation, which has seen little or no change in poverty rates for such families over the past two decades.

Despite recent declines, California’s overall poverty rates have risen significantly over the past twenty years, both in absolute terms and compared to poverty rates in the rest of the nation. In 1997-98, the poverty rate in California was 15.3 percent, considerably higher than during a similar period of economic prosperity two decades earlier (10.4 percent in 1978-79). During this 20-year period, increases in California’s poverty rates were especially dramatic for single-parent families, who saw their poverty rate rise from 33.4 percent to 44.2 percent, and married couples with children, whose poverty rate grew from 8.2 percent to 14.3 percent.

“We see substantial increases in poverty across the spectrum in California – from the most economically vulnerable single-parent families to married-couple households considered largely impervious to poverty,” said demographer Hans Johnson, who co-authored the study with research associate Sonya Tafoya. “Unlike the poor in the rest of the nation, California’s poor are now more likely to live in married-couple families than in any other type of household.” The vast majority of these married-couple families have at least one working spouse.

The analysis, Trends in Family and Household Poverty, found that California’s higher poverty rates can be attributed to the growing proportion of households headed by less educated, often immigrant, adults. Poverty rates are higher for immigrants than for U.S. born residents and are higher for households headed by an adult with relatively little education.

The Public Policy Institute of California is an independent, nonprofit organization dedicated to objective, nonpartisan research on economic, social, and political issues that affect the lives of Californians. The Institute was established in 1994 with an endowment from William R. Hewlett.