Golden State turns to lead, now leads poverty rankings

The new ranking leaves California at the bottom, along with and close to the 23.2 percent poverty rate in the District of Columbia.

The next worst-off state is Arizona, which has a poverty rate of 19.8 percent, followed by Florida at 19.5 percent, Nevada at 19.4 percent, Georgia at 19 percent, and Texas at 16.5 percent.

Hawaii’s poverty rate is 17.4 percent, largely because of the state’s high cost of living.

Even Michigan, home of the much-reduced U.S. auto industry around Detroit, has a poverty rate of 13.5 percent, or 10 points lower than California’s rate.

The least poor states tend to be the unglamorous, undiverse and sprawling communities close to Canada.

Iowa, Vermont, Nebraska, North Dakota, Montana and Wyoming have poverty rates just below 10 percent. Iowa’s rate is the lowest in the nation, at 8.4 percent, roughly one-third California’s poverty rate.

In 1969, only 11.1 percent of Californians were poor, partly because the state’s movie and defense industries had drawn in a migrant population of skilled World War II veterans. But the rate nudged up to 11.4 percent in 1979, to 12.5 percent in 1989 and to 14.2 percent in 1999, according to the U.S. census.

California contains some of the nation’s wealthiest people and communities, which are clustered around the Democratic-dominated movie, software and silicon industries. The state’s wealthy people include actor George Clooney, movie producer Harvey Weinstein and Google’s co-founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin.

But outside the wealthy zones, there are high rates of poverty in the Central Valley — where the agricultural sector still relies on low-wage, immigrant stoop labor, rather than crop-picking machines — and throughout the chain-link conurbations that stretch from trailer parks in San Jose to barrios in San Diego.

The well-being of Californian children has also shriveled in recent decades, partly because of the state’s declining education sector, according to a July report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

That report rated California’s education system 43rd in the nation, just ahead of Alabama’s in 44th place and well behind Texas in 32nd place and Arkansas in 34th place, according to the foundation’s study, titled the 2012 Kids Count Data Book.

The foundation also rated the “well being” of California’s children lower than that of their peers in West Virginia, Tennessee and Kentucky, but higher than the well being of children in Texas, Alabama and Mississippi.

The Census Bureau’s new measure reduced estimated poverty rates in several of the Canadian border states, and in some of the states long viewed as the poorest. West Virginia’s poverty rate tumbled from 16.9 percent to 12.3 percent. Kentucky’s poverty rate slid from 17.1 percent to 13.4 percent.

Mississippi’s rate plunged from a chart-leading 21.1 percent to 15.8 percent.

Under the old measure, Indiana and California shared the same poverty rate of 16.3 percent. The new measure sets Indiana’s poverty rate at 14.6 percent, or 8.9 points below California’s rate.