The sky-high cost of housing in California is pushing many families into poverty, according to new research by the Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality and the Public Policy Institute of California.
The poverty measurement, which takes into account housing costs in addition to income, found that 25 percent of children and 22 percent of all Californians are poverty-stricken.
The new California Poverty Measure provides a more rigorous measure than the commonly used official poverty measure of the U.S. Census Bureau. The index improves on the official measure by taking housing costs and transfer payments into account, said David Grusky, a sociology professor who serves as the director of the Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality.
The percentages would be even higher if not for the state and federal safety nets, including CalFresh, the state's food stamp program; CalWORKs, the state's cash assistance program; and the federal Earned Income Tax Credit, the study found. If these programs were not in place, the child-poverty rate would increase by another 12 percentage points.
"Much as we'd like a yet-better safety net, we have to appreciate that the safety net we have is doing real work, pulling millions of Californians out of poverty," said researcher Beth Mattingly, who worked with the Stanford team.
The new index also provides statistics at the county level, giving local officials a better understanding of the level of poverty and how it is being reduced by the safety net.
"Local and state officials shouldn't have to fly blind when it comes to understanding the extent of poverty and whether our safety net is doing the work it's supposed to be doing," Grusky said.
California's immigrant population is also highly affected by poverty, in part because undocumented immigrants are not eligible for safety-net programs, the study found. Taking immigrants into consideration is key to reducing the state's poverty, Grusky said.
"If we want to take on poverty in California, we simply can't continue to ignore the situation of immigrants," he said.
Findings of the California Poverty Measure include:
Housing is cheaper in rural areas, lowering poverty rates in those communities.
Out-of-pocket medical costs, which the Census Bureau doesn't take into consideration when calculating the official poverty measure, often push the elderly into poverty.
Nearly 30 percent of the state's immigrant population lives in poverty -- a figure that is much higher than official government estimates.
The state's poverty-stricken children tend to live in urban areas, where rents are high. In overall numbers, more poor children live in California than in any other state.
High rents and mortgage payments are felt most severely in metropolitan areas such as Los Angeles.
The research helps to establish that California, often thought of as the land of plenty, is "in fact the land of poverty," Grusky said. It also shows that those who want to cut back the food stamp program have to own up to the poverty-increasing effects of that change, he added.
"We developed the California Poverty Measure because we can't have a meaningful policy debate in this state without knowing how proposed changes in policy will affect the lives of real Californians," he said.