California has the nation’s highest poverty rate

California’s job and economic growth has outpaced much of the nation in recent years. That growth, however, has not eliminated one of the state’s biggest challenges: poverty.

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This week, State Assembly Republican Leader Chad Mayes called poverty California’s No. 1 priority during a forum of legislative leaders in Sacramento.

Mayes, who represents parts of San Bernardino and Riverside counties, claimed the state’s poverty rate is higher than any state in the nation when considering factors such as cost-of-living.

“If you look at the official poverty measure in California, we’re about average with the rest of the country,” Mayes said. “But if you use the supplemental poverty measure, we are in the lead. We have the highest poverty rate in the nation — higher than New Mexico, higher than any of the southern states, Louisiana, Alabama, higher than Idaho.”

We decided to fact-check whether the report Mayes cited really shows that California has the highest poverty rate in the nation.

Our research

From 2013 to 2015, California had America’s 17th-highest poverty rate, 15 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Official Poverty Measure. That measure uses income levels to determine poverty, but does not consider differences in cost-of-living among states. It lists the official poverty threshold for a two-adult, two-child family at $24,036 in 2015.

During the same period, California had the highest poverty rate, 20.6 percent, according to the census’ Supplemental Poverty Measure. That study does account for cost-of-living, including taxes, housing and medical costs, and is considered by researchers a more accurate reflection of poverty. For a two-adult, two-child family in California, the poverty threshold was an average of $30,000, depending on the region in the state, according to a 2014 analysis by Public Policy Institute of California.

Looking at state poverty rates, the second highest is Florida’s 19 percent, followed by New York’s and Louisiana’s shared 17.9 percent rate. The national average is 15.1 percent using the supplemental measure.

“I think Assemblymember Mayes’ comments are accurate,” said Chris Hoene, executive director of the left-leaning California Budget Policy Center, which has closely studied poverty in the state.

Hoene said the high poverty rate in the supplemental report is driven by California’s stratospheric housing costs. He added that use of the supplemental measure has gained wide acceptance among researchers.

“I think in most quarters, that’s not disputed,” he said.

Marybeth Mattingly, a researcher at the Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality added by email: “Basically, yes, this statement is (sadly) accurate.”

Caroline Danielson, who studies poverty at the Public Policy Institute of California, noted that when considering the margin of error in the supplemental poverty report, California and Florida are closer than one might assume. California’s estimate has a margin of error of ± 0.8 percent while Florida’s had a margin of ± 1.1 percent.

“California’s rate is essentially the same as Florida’s,” she said. “California, we might say, is in the top two.”

Several researchers noted that California’s poverty rate has declined in recent years: “But they haven’t moved as much as you would hope,” Hoene said.

Our ruling

State Assembly Republican Leader Chad Mayes said recently that California has “the highest poverty rate in the nation” when considering the U.S. Census Bureau’s Supplemental Poverty Measure.

Data from that report, and researchers who study poverty, support Mayes’ statement. The state’s 20.6 percent poverty rate is higher than any other, though Florida’s 19 percent rate is close, especially when considering the margin of error.

The supplemental report is considered by experts the best state-by-state measure of poverty, because it takes into account geographic differences in cost-of-living, not just income levels.

In his statement, Mayes cited the specific report that backs his claim, and added the context that another report, one that doesn’t account for cost-of-living, shows California’s poverty closer to the national average.

Given this clarity and context, we rate Mayes’ statement True.

This article was originally published by


  1. It is called the “self fulling prediction.”

    Raise the Welfare State and institutions putting greater burden on taxpayers. Lower the requirements for applying for welfare. Do not filter the illegals who come here and do not contribute to the system with “under the radar” cash economy. What do you get?

    More people of low incomes, and a system that drives the cash producing businesses and economy out of the State. Even the middle of the road Democrats are being dragged kicking and screaming to understanding this self fulfilling economic disaster.

    Stupid is as Stupid does.

    Still voting Democrat?

  2. Get rid of Jerry Brown and the Illegal Aliens problem solve…

  3. TheRandyGuy says

    True, but with a caveat: The rich in CA are much richer than the rich in most states. Result? The ever increasing taxation, coupled with a growing state debt, masks the true financial state of CA.

  4. Yes…and combine that with a state that is less pro business …what do you expect?

  5. Hmmm, I wonder if that’s because it’s being run by—-PROGRESSIVES!!!

  6. Karl Marxist says

    “California’s poverty rate is the highest in the Nation.”

    Although this article is correct, the author leaves out that the California wage earners are the top 8 highest paid in the nation and is why this State’s poverty rate is also the Highest in the nation.

    Why you ask is this possible? The reason is because the people who continue to reside in California refuse to pay more taxes wishing to live in a Republic instead of a Democracy.

    As an example, take the prosperous city of Morgan Hill CA where the property home’s average starts at $800,000.00 and where doctors, big business owners and attorneys reside using all of the tax loopholes only the rich and wealthy can imagine.

    And yet their daytime maids and or, grounds keepers live at, or below the poverty line which forces 3-4 famalies to have to live together in a 2 bedroom apartment just struggling to make ends meet.

    What’s needed is for the people of that State to realize that the only way true Democratic Socialisim can be effective and the people to be made happy, is for the State government to control all income. This then allows the state to grant a refund to the people their just due for wages earned.

    By enabling the State to pay the people what they believe is suitable for them and what they are allowed to keep, is indeed a benifit for all.

    History shows and it’s been proven that by the state taxing ones income at 90%, the State can then control both the income and outgo of funds for government programs, thus enabling each and every citizen of this wonderful great State to be able live in comfort, prosperity and peace.

    The great and honorable Governor Jerry Brown has been fighting an uphill battle for decades attempting to accomplish this, so hopefully their new Governor Gavin Newsom will take off where Governor Brown left off, to complete the task of making this State a true Deamocratc Socialist People’s Republic.

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