Poor showing: California has most poverty of any U.S. state

California’s poverty rate of 23.5 percent is the highest of any state in the country, according to new information from the U.S. Census Bureau.

The Census Bureau worked with the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics to compile a Supplemental Poverty Measure, which factors in government programs to assist low-income people and families that aren’t included in official, income-based poverty measures that were developed in the early 1960s.

The new measure’s thresholds factor in the amount families spend on a basic goods including food, clothing, shelter and utilities and a small additional amount to allow for other needs such as household supplies, personal care items and non-work-related transportation. It’s adjusted to factor in geographical differences in housing costs, and also includes resources beyond income, such as nutrition assistance, subsidized housing, and home energy credits.

The nearest three-year (2009 to 2011) poverty rate to California’s is the District of Columbia with 23.2 percent. The next-highest poverty rate for a state is Arizona at 19.8 percent.

Some experts believe California’s higher cost of living is responsible for the increase in its poverty rate under the new means of evaluation, compared to 16.3 percent under the old measurement criteria.

Nationally, the new-measure poverty rate increased by a full percentage point, to 16.1 percent, or nearly 50 million people in poverty.

A link to the U.S. Census Bureau’s report is below:

U.S. Census report on poverty

New study points out inadequacies of how California gauges poverty

The half-century-old federal metrics for determining poverty often leave lower income Californians in a no man’s land: Not enough money to make ends meet but not poor enough to qualify for social safety net programs, according to researchers.

The UCLA Center for Health Policy Research, in a new policy brief, highlights results from a survey of California legislators on the data and information they use to understand poverty in their districts. Most said they prefer data tailored to their local constituencies and that takes into account current costs for basic living expenses; rather than just income or spending patterns.

Lawmakers are often required to use the Federal Poverty Level, or FPL, a metric created in the 1960s based on 1950s spending patterns. It’s adjusted annually with the Consumer Price Index but establishes a single national amount of income as an official measurement of poverty. Many view it as inadequate for determining the actual income needed for basic living expenses in high cost-of-living states like California.

The center cites as an example the FPL for a couple for 2012 is $15,130, with actual cost-of-living for a two-person household in California up to two or three times as much, according to the Elder Economic Security Standard Index, a newer measure of poverty calculated by the center. The Elder Index shows how much it costs retired older adults to cover all of their most basic needs such as food, housing, health care and transportation.

As a result, two out of five adults aged 65 or older are undercounted as poor, according to the center.

“The legislature relies on the FPL to comply with federal requirements for a variety of social programs,” said D. Imelda Padilla-Frausto, the study’s lead author.

“However, having additional data could be useful to capture the complexity of the current social and economic reality in California and could help protect California’s most vulnerable populations.”