California was given a first-place title this week that it surely doesn’t want.
It has the highest rate of poverty of any state in the country, according to new data from the U.S. Census Bureau.
As a whole, the U.S. saw its national poverty rate decrease slightly 0.4 percentage points. But the Golden State has its own unique poverty story to tell.
Here’s what you should know.
How does California stack up nationally?
The U.S. Census Bureau measures poverty in two ways every year.
Official poverty measure: The official measure compares all states the same based on income.
Supplemental poverty measure: This measure calculates poverty rates by taking into account the many government programs designed to assist low-income families and individuals that are not included in the official poverty measures. It is this measure that gives us a better idea of what’s going on in a state like California.
By the supplemental poverty measure, California’s estimated poverty rate is 19 percent. While it is a 1.4 percent decrease from the previous year, the rate remains the highest among states. It accounts for about 7.5 million Californians.
The next closest is Florida with 18.1 percent. Louisiana follows at 17.7 percent.
After that, these states follow: Mississippi (15.9 percent), Arizona (15.6 percent), Georgia (15.6 percent), New York (15.5 percent), New Mexico (15.2 percent), New Jersey (15.1 percent) and Hawaii (15.0 percent).
In its own lane without statehood, the District of Columbia actually leads California on the supplemental poverty measure with 20.2 percent.
Why is California No. 1?
The main culprit? Experts say it’s the high cost of housing.
“We do have a housing crisis in many parts of the state and our poverty rate is highest in Los Angeles County,” Caroline Danielson, policy director at the Public Policy Institute of California, told The Sacramento Bee. “When you factor that in we struggle.”
Sara Kimberlin, senior policy analyst at the nonprofit California Budget and Policy Center, agrees.
“A really key reason why California’s poverty rate is so high is that we have very high housing costs in many parts of the state,” she told Capital Public Radio. “And even in areas of the state where housing costs are not as high, many people struggle with high housing cost burden.”
The California Budget and Policy Center has reported that median household rents in California have risen 13.2 percent from 2006 to 2016, while median annual earnings for full-time workers grew by only 4.1 percent during that period. In Southern California, for example, the median cost of homes hit $536,250 over the summer.
What’s the outlook for the rest of the country?
The national average when it comes to the supplemental poverty measure is 14.1, so California is well above that.
At the official measure, the country had a poverty rate of 12.3 percent in 2017. That’s 39.7 million people.
Yet 2017 saw the third consecutive decline in the national poverty rate, and since 2014, the national poverty rate has declined 2.5 percentage points.
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