News Column

Child Poverty Rate in California Up 30 Percent Since 2008

Jan. 8, 2013

Timm Herdt

The percentage of California children living in poverty has soared by 30 percent since the onset of the Great Recession in 2008, and more than 1 in 5 children now live in households with incomes below the federal poverty threshold, a study released Monday shows.

The rate is even higher, about 1 in 3, among black and Latino children and those being raised by a single mother.

The report, entitled "Prosperity Threatened: Perspectives on Childhood Poverty in California," was produced by the San Francisco-based Center for the Next Generation, using data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

The report finds that the child poverty rate statewide has climbed from 17.8 percent in 2008 to 21.5 percent at the start of last year, a 30 percent increase. (View or download the full report)

It warns that failure to reverse this trend will have damaging long-term consequences for the state economy, noting that about half of all those who spend most of their childhoods living in poverty remain poor after they become adults.

"We can't honestly separate our state's economic future from current poverty rates among our kids," said Ann O'Leary, a co-author of the report. "This is a serious problem, and it's not just an issue of moral outrage but also a long-term economic problem for our state. We hope to ring some alarm bells."

The report shows wide disparities in rates of childhood poverty among the state's 58 counties, ranging from a high of 37.9 percent in Lake County to a low of 3.7 percent in Calaveras County.

In Ventura County, 14.9 percent of children live in poverty, up from 12.2 percent in 2008, for an increase of 22.1 percent. Among families headed by a single mother, the countywide poverty rate is 28.7 percent.

Federal poverty guidelines are adjusted annually. For 2013, they are set at $11,170 a year for an individual and $19,090 for a family of three.

The report shows that poverty among seniors also has increased, but at a much slower pace. It has moved to 8.6 percent, up from 7.8 percent in 2008, for a 11.9 percent increase.

Nationally, O'Leary noted the poverty rate among seniors was at 35 percent as recently as 1959 and has fallen sharply as Social Security has expanded and Medicare was created and refined.

"We have so robustly supported those programs that we have effectively tackled senior poverty," she said. "With child poverty, we never made the same commitment. We don't have much of a safety net for children."

In Ventura County, however, census data show there has been a sharper increase in poverty among seniors than among children over the previous four years. Countywide, the percentage of seniors living in poverty climbed from 6.3 percent to 7.8 percent, a 23.4 percent increase.

The report notes that 6.1 million Californians, or 16.2 percent, live in families with incomes below poverty guidelines, placing it 20th among the states. Using a newly developed standard called the Supplemental Poverty Measure, which factors in things such as variances in housing costs, California ranks No. 1 in the nation, with 8.7 million people, or 23.5 percent, living in official poverty.

"These numbers show that the state's level of poverty, under this new measure, is at near crisis levels," the report says.

The report notes a direct correlation between educational attainment levels and poverty, and includes a chart that shows a near inverse relationship among California counties between the percentage of adults with a bachelor's degree and the child poverty rate.

In San Mateo County, for instance, more than a quarter of adults have bachelor's degrees and the child poverty rate is less than 10 percent. Conversely, in Merced County less than 10 percent of adults have bachelor's degrees and the child poverty rate is 35 percent.

Based on census data, the report shows that individuals with a bachelor's degree have incomes $35,083 higher than someone with less than a high school diploma. Those with some college or an associate degree make $17,591 more than someone without a high school diploma.

"In today's economy, adults with a college education are doing much better," O'Leary said. "We want to make sure that these kids in poverty have an opportunity to exceed their parents' education levels."

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Distributed by MCT Information Services



Source: (c) 2013 Ventura County Star (Camarillo, Calif.)