NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


May 23, 2006

By official measures, poverty in recent years has been somewhat higher in California than in the rest of the nation: 13.3 percent versus 12.7 percent in 2004, says the Public Policy Institute of California.

California's poverty ranks 15th highest among all states and the District of Columbia. However, once California's higher cost of living is taken into account, only Washington, D.C., and New York have higher poverty rates than California.


  • Poverty varies substantially within California, not only by region but also by other demographic characteristics; young children have higher poverty rates (21 percent) than any other age group, and women have higher poverty rates than men (16 percent versus 14 percent).
  • Poverty rates grew substantially in California during the 1980s and then fell during the 1990s; however, but the end of the 1990s, poverty in California was still higher than it was in the late 1960s and 1970s.
  • By contrast, in the rest of the nation, poverty rates today are similar to those of the late 1960s (and they may even be lower, depending on the adjustment for price inflation).

According to the researchers, this study points to several problems with the current federal measure of poverty. When poverty programs do not adjust income eligibility criteria and benefits to reflect the cost of living, the programs provide very different levels of service for poor families facing different costs.

Source: Deborah Reed, "Poverty in California: Moving Beyond the Federal Measure," Public Policy Institute of California, May 2006.

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