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As poverty rises nationally, California sees a small dip

As poverty rises nationally, California sees a small dip

California bucked a national trend of growing poverty as the state’s rebounding economy and a shrinking population made for a mild improvement in one tally of the financially stressed.

California had 5.14 million residents living with incomes below the poverty level during the three years ended in 2022 – down 18,000 in a year, according to the Census Bureau. Nationally, 32.2 million lived in poverty in the timeframe, up 777,000 over 12 months as high inflation pruned household budgets already thinned by diminished pandemic stimulus.

My trusty spreadsheet reviewed the bureau’s “supplemental poverty measure” which tracks how many Americans live on incomes below poverty thresholds. This calculation adjusts incomes for government assistance and reflects each state’s cost of living.

By this math, California had the most residents in poverty, followed by Texas at 3.3 million, Florida at 2.77 million, New York at 2.32 million and North Carolina at 1.1 million.

Poverty is a complex challenge with no easy answers. It’s no secret that California’s high cost of living stretches thin many households’ finances. Housing expenses are the key culprit. Plus, some of the state’s largest industries – hospitality, personal services and agriculture – don’t pay wages that make a California family budget more easily pencil out.

So how did California’s poverty dip when it rose across the nation? By state, Texas had the biggest poverty increase last year, up 308,000. Next was Florida at 211,000, then New Jersey at 83,000, Washington at 69,000 and Missouri at 59,000.

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California had a late yet robust recovery from the economic turmoil created by the coronavirus. For example, employers statewide added 945,000 jobs in 2022, the most of any state in the nation.

Plus, the state was slow to curtail economic aid that expired in many states last year. The pandemic era’s stimulus packages previously slashed poverty counts across the nation.

And, remember, California’s population is shrinking and that decline includes folks struggling with money.

Golden opportunity?

The Golden State’s 18,000 decrease in its poverty ranks was the nation’s eighth-best performance. Poverty dropped in 22 other states, too: Ohio’s 90,000 drop was No. 1, then came New York, off 52,000, Tennessee, off 49,000, Louisiana, off 41,000 and Colorado, off 27,000.

However, California’s dip was relatively meek. It was the state’s smallest poverty decline since 2016 after dropping by 2.8 million over five years.

And despite all those dips, California still has a poverty problem. Look at it this way: The state accounts for 12% of the US population and 16% of the nation’s poor, by this measurement.

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The state’s impoverished residents equal 13.2% of all Californians, according to the Census math. That’s a poverty rate topped only by the District of Columbia at 14.8% and is well above the nation’s 9.8% share.

California isn’t alone. It’s closely followed in poverty share by Florida at 12.7%, Mississippi at 12.5%, New York at 11.9% and Texas at 11.3%.

By the way, Maine has the nation’s lowest poverty rate at 4.6%, followed by Wisconsin at 5.1% and Minnesota at 5.5%.

Exporting poverty?

Consider an intriguing link between states with eye-catching swings in poverty counts and their overall population.

Start with California. Poverty slipped as it lost 136,000 residents overall. Only Illinois’ 172,000 population dip was worse among the states – as its poverty count fell by 1,000.

And New York’s population fall was No. 3, off 107,000. The state ranked No. 2 for poverty drops.

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Conversely, look at Texas. It added 413,000 to its overall population, the No. 1 gain nationally. Florida added 305,000 residents, No. 2. It’s not a coincidence these same two states also topped the rankings of largest poverty increases.

Yes, poor households in Texas and Florida were stressed by aggressive cuts to pandemic-era benefits, tactics designed to get more workers back on the job.

But it’s also a good bet that some impoverished residents in expensive places such as California, Illinois and New York relocated to low-cost places like Texas and Florida amid a coronavirus-churned economy.

That’s one price of pricey living.

Jonathan Lansner is the business columnist for the Southern California News Group. He can be reached at jlansner@scng.com

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