Report: Almost a Quarter of Californians Now Live in Poverty

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Surpassing the District of Columbia, California's poverty rate has reached 23.5 percent, the Sacramento Bee reports. This gives the Golden State the dubious distinction of leading the nation in poverty. By comparison, the national poverty rate is 15.8 percent.

Why is there such a sharp increase in poverty?

Old California poverty statistics showed that 16.3 percent of the state's residents qualified for the designation of "poor." This translated to approximately six million Californians. What is different in 2012 is the methodology used by the Census Bureau when tabulating data. Its November 2012 report relies not just on payroll taxes as a measure of wealth but also takes into consideration the state-specific cost of living.

How does the new report define California poverty guidelines?

While there is an official poverty measure, the Census Bureau now uses a supplemental poverty measure, which defines the "33rd percentile of expenditures on food, clothing, shelter and utilities (FCSU) of consumer units with exactly two children multiplied by 1.2."

Who are California's poor?

The Women's Economic Agenda Project (WEAP) cites the rising costs of housing, utilities and health care as being among the catalysts for an increase in the number of poor residents. Under the old California poverty guidelines, 16 percent of women and 14 percent of men were considered poor. Twenty-one percent of children also lived in poverty in the Golden State. Of the families considered poor, 34 percent have at least one full-time worker.

The Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) further details that under the old guidelines, more Latinos (22.8 percent) and African Americans (22.1 percent) were among the poorest Californians than Asians (11.8 percent) and Caucasians (9.5 percent).

Why is the cost of living an important consideration when discussing poverty in the Golden State?

WEAP determined in 2008 that the ability to rent a two-bedroom apartment in an average California neighborhood would require a job paying $24.01 per hour. In actuality, the Sacramento Bee explained that California's median household income was $53,367. By comparison, the national median income sat at $50,054. Interestingly, PPIC figures showed that Central Valley counties were among the poorest in the state, while Bay Area counties had the lowest poverty rates even though they had the higher cost of living.

How is California dealing with its poverty rate?

Advocates for the poor are now demanding reversals of cuts made to entitlements. As noted by the Associated Press, community organizers in the Central Valley region are trying to decide whether a general investment in education or a focus on educating minority children would have the best potential of breaking the cycle of poverty that plagues the area. Even so, last year the state of California cut poverty grant levels by 13 percent, Los Angeles Times noted.

Sylvia Cochran is a Los Angeles area resident with a firm finger on the pulse of California politics. Talk radio junkie, community volunteer and politically independent, she scrutinizes the good and the bad from both sides of the political aisle.

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