By Any Measure, Many California Children Still Live in Poverty

poverty The percentage of California children living in poverty remains high – even as the nation continues to recover from the recession. Two measures used by the federal government to assess poverty among American families, the Federal Poverty Level and the more state-specific Supplemental Poverty Measure, indicate that a quarter of the state’s children remain in poverty. A third measure suggests the numbers are even higher.

The Federal Poverty Level (FPL) for a family of two adults and two children in 2012 was $23,283. Using this standard, about 24% of California children lived in poverty that year, up from about 17% in 2007. The FPL is based on the basic food budget a family needs to meet minimum nutritional requirements but does not take into account other expenses like housing.

To address this limitation, the Census Bureau created the Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM). Unlike the FPL, the SPM takes into account regional differences in the cost of living (e.g., differences in the cost of food, clothing, shelter, utilities, etc.) and the benefits provided to needy families. According to the SPM, about 27% of California children lived in poverty in 2012, up from 25% in 2009.

The Supplemental Poverty Measure is only available at the state and national level, however. To assess the local situation, experts created Self-Sufficiency Standards for every California county. These standards calculate the estimated amount of money a family needs to adequately meet all its basic needs without public or private assistance.

On average, these standards are more than double the Federal Poverty Level. For example, the average California Self-Sufficiency Standard for two adults, one preschooler, and one school-aged child is $63,979. Reflecting California’s relatively high cost of living, more than half of families had incomes below the Self-Sufficiency Standard for their county in 2012.

Read more about child poverty in California, including policy implications>>

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