California Childhood Poverty Rates Increasing: Report

For Hispanics, California's fastest-growing demographic group, nearly 1 in 3 children lives at or below the poverty line

Nearly half of California's children live in poverty or "perilously close" to it, according to a new report that warns about a trend of increasing childhood poverty in the state.

The report from nonprofit advocacy group the Center for the Next Generation, released Tuesday, said that children live in poverty at twice the rate of California seniors.

"We’ve taken steps to provide our seniors with some level of assurance that they’ll be cared for in their later years," said Ann O’Leary, vice President and director of the Children and Families Program at the center and co-author of the new report. "California’s grandparents should ask why their grandkids don’t get the same treatment."

"Prosperity Threatened: Perspectives on Childhood Poverty in California" details a trend that worsened during the recent economic downturn, with U.S. Census Bureau data showing that poverty rates increased for children much faster than they did for seniors during that period.

Based on Census data, the report found 21.6 percent of California children live in poverty, compared to 15.5 percent of the overall state population.

Between 2006 and 2011, the childhood poverty rate increased by 4 points – a 21 percent increase, according to the report. During the same time, only five California counties showed a decrease in child poverty rates, while 16 counties showed declining rates for seniors.

For Hispanics, California's fastest-growing demographic group, nearly one in three children lives at or below the poverty line.

And, using a broader definition – household incomes at 200 percent or less of the federal poverty line, which is about $23,000 for a family of four – the report found that nearly half of California definition are in poverty.

The report breaks poverty rates down county by county, showing that the Lake County, in Northern California, has the state's highest childhood poverty rate of 37.9 percent. Rural Calaveras County in the Sierra Nevada has the lowest rate, of 3.7 percent, followed by two San Francisco Bay Area counties: wealthy Marin and San Mateo counties.

Here are the 2011 childhood poverty rates for the Bay Area, following by the rate change since 2008:

  • San Francisco: 13.3 percent, +14.5percent
  • Santa Clara County: 12.6 percent, +27 percent
  • Alameda County: 16 percent, +18 percent
  • Contra Costa County: 13.6 percent, +16.7 percent
  • San Mateo County: 9.1 percent, +6.6 percent

There is a correlation between high education rates and low poverty rates, the report found. Single-mother households are also disproportionately affected by poverty, it stated.

The report also warns that, by one federal measure, California has a higher percentage of residents in poverty than any other state in the nation.

Using the Census Bureau's Supplemental Poverty Measure, 23.5 percent of Californians are in poverty – and only Hawaii and the District of Columbia come close to matching that rate, the report states. The measure takes into account tax-related factors, benefits and housing prices to examine poverty in greater detail.

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

The report recommends increased funding for high-poverty school district and improved access to social service benefits such as food stamps. 

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