Poverty In California

With help from Reddit users, here’s a visual representation of California’s population density as it relates to the rest of the United States (though a couple of years old, it is still relatively accurate). In this map, the United States is split into sections with the same population as California as of 2021.


California Population Split States.png


To understand the size of California on a global scale, take a look at the visual below which shows the world’s populations as compared to California’s.

Now that you know California’s population relative to the nation and the rest of the world, let’s look at the might of California’s income. Our state swims in the richness of many things - beautiful landscapes, cultures, history (both good and bad, but extensive nonetheless), tech innovation, and wealth. California stands out as a global powerhouse, measuring in as what would be considered the fifth-largest global economy in the world. The Golden State outperforms entire countries such as India, France, and the United Kingdom. Despite all of this, California also holds the title of having the highest poverty rate in the entire nation. California’s Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM) clocks in at a whopping 13.2%.

How does so much economic power translate into such a dire economic divide within itself? Last week, we studied how these poverty measures were taken (OPM and SPM). The SPM takes into account, not just overall pretax income and general inflation adjustments but calculates the measures based on the overall cost of living expenses in California - changes to tax policies, government and social safety net/assistance programs, geographic locations, and their relative housing costs. These factors add up. 

When the COVID pandemic swept the nation (the world, really), federal government support arrived in full force to help expand existing government assistance programs to ensure that families had what they needed to rise above flooding economic issues that came with forced shutdowns, hospitalizations, and all the rest. Programs such as increased welfare benefits, emergency food assistance, and expanded child tax credits became key to helping families living at or below the poverty line, but a few issues persisted that kept us from pulling families out from under the line. Though many families were receiving this support, they struggled to keep up because factors like housing shortages had a major impact on the overall cost of living. Many expanded assistance programs expired in early 2023, causing a slingshot effect that increased California’s poverty rates. The CalFresh food assistance program was key in keeping 1.1 million Californians out of poverty until it ended in February 2023. Most of the safety net programs and their expansions helped keep about 1.3 million children above the poverty line.