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              A homeless person sleeps on a metro ventilation grill as commuters enter Syntagma station in Athens, Monday, Nov. 12, 2012. Greek lawmakers approved the country

Golden State turns to lead, now leads poverty rankings

Photo of Neil Munro
Neil Munro
White House Correspondent

The Golden State has reached a poverty rate that is now twice as bad as West Virginia’s and substantially worse than the rates of poverty in Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas and Texas, according to a new measure of poverty developed by the federal Census Bureau.

Democrat-run California earned its last-place rank under the federal government’s new measure of poverty, which incorporates more detailed analyses of welfare payments and the local costs of food, gasoline and housing. (View the new census data report)

The state’s costs are boosted by its environmental and workplace regulations, and by 38 million residents’ competition for housing close to the sea.

The new measure, however, also incorporates a controversial calculation of relative equality that demotes states, including California, that have wide gaps between wealthy people and people with less than one-third of state residents’ average income.

California snatched the last-place prize from Mississippi, which had the highest poverty rate under the older and simpler measure, which gauged people’s ability to buy basic services and goods.

Democratic California Gov. Gerry Brown’s office did not release a comment Nov. 15 about the new ranking, but did note that he would be attending a housing conference, the “Greenbuild International Conference and Expo,” in San Francisco Nov. 16.

The new measure, dubbed the “Supplemental Poverty Measure,” revised the California’s poverty rate from 16.3 percent up to 23.5 percent.

The report estimates that roughly 8.8 million people in California were poor during between 2009 and 2011, when Democrats controlled the state legislature and governorship, as well as the White House.

The stunning reversal in fortunes for the Democrat-dominated state — once a worldwide symbol of glitz and wealth — is underlined by previous census reports, which showed that only 11.1 percent of the state’s population was poor in 1969.

Only 13.7 percent of Americans were poor in 1969, and many of them were found in the agricultural states of the Old South. A third of Americans in Mississippi, and a quarter of Americans in Arkansas, Louisiana, South Carolina and Western Virginia, were poor.

Forty years later, after waves of federal and state regulations on housing, banking, health care and air quality, and amid increased financial aid for unmarried parents, youth, immigrants and unskilled people, the national poverty rate has climbed to 15.8 percent, according to the new Census Bureau measure.

The new measure supplants a poverty gauge developed in the 1960s. It incorporates the economic impact of welfare programs, transportation and child-care costs, changes in child-rearing practices — especially the impact of single parents raising kids — plus differences in the region’s average prices and health care costs.