Dan Walters

By Dan Walters
dwalters@sacbee.com
September 13, 2016 – 4:00 PM

Gov. Jerry Brown and state legislators have been crowing about what they did for California’s poorest residents the last few years.

They raised the state’s minimum wage, improved overtime pay for farm and domestic workers, enacted an earned-income tax credit, expanded health and welfare benefits, and provided extra money for the educations of poor students.

However, their failure to confront the heaviest burden on poor families – California’s soaring housing costs – will extend California’s embarrassment of having the nation’s highest rate of real poverty.

A new supplemental poverty measure by the Census Bureau, covering the 2013-15 period, found that nearly 8 million Californians, 20.6 percent of the state’s residents, are living in poverty.

While that’s lower than what it was during the previous three-year period, 23.4 percent, the gap between California and other states, which range from 19 percent to 9.7 percent, has widened.

California’s “official” poverty rate, 15 percent, is only slightly higher than the national rate of 14.5 percent, but its 20.6 percent supplemental rate is 5.5 percentage points higher than the national rate, 15.1 percent.

The official poverty rate is based on a half-century-old formula that takes into account only a narrow range of incomes and living costs. The supplemental rate covers a much wider array of income sources and living costs, including housing, and is widely considered to be much more accurate.

Deeper dives into the data leave little doubt that California’s high costs of living, particularly for housing, are a huge factor in its having such a high proportion of impoverished residents.

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