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- Definition: Estimated percentage of children ages 0-17 in living situations with incomes below their Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM) threshold (e.g., in 2020, 12.6% of California children lived in poverty, according to the SPM).
- Data Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Survey Annual Social and Economic Supplement (Jan. 2022).
- Footnote: The Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM) extends the official poverty measure by accounting for a wider range of living situations, economic resources, and expenditures. For details on the SPM and differences between the SPM and the official poverty measure, see The Supplemental Poverty Measure: 2020. Data for years 2016 and earlier are not comparable with data presented here because of differences in methodology. These estimates are based on a survey of the population and are subject to both sampling and nonsampling error.
- Measures of Family Income and Poverty on Kidsdata.org
On kidsdata.org, family income and poverty are measured against a variety of income, resource, and self-sufficiency criteria:The U.S. Census Bureau's official poverty measure compares pre-tax cash income against a threshold of three times the cost of a minimally adequate diet in 1963, adjusted for inflation. Federal poverty thresholds aim to define and measure poverty over time, rather than describe the amount of income families need to live. The following indicators are based on the official poverty measure and come from the American Community Survey (ACS):*
- Children living in poverty (i.e., with incomes below their poverty threshold), overall and by race ethnicity
- Children living in deep poverty (i.e., with incomes below 50% of their poverty threshold)
- Children living in areas of concentrated poverty (i.e., where at least 30% of residents live in poverty)
- Income level for children as a percentage of their poverty threshold, overall and by family type
- Children living in low-income working families (i.e., with incomes below 200% of their poverty threshold and with at least one working parent)
Federal poverty guidelines are simplified federal poverty thresholds produced by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and used for administrative purposes such as determining eligibility for federal programs and benefits. Indicators of family income between 0-100% and 0-200% of federal poverty guidelines are provided for mothers with a recent birth. These estimates come from the Maternal and Infant Health Assessment and are available for California and its counties with the greatest number of births; in addition, state-level breakdowns by race/ethnicity and by type of prenatal health insurance coverage are provided.
The Census Bureau's Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM) is an extension of the official poverty measure. SPM thresholds are adjusted to account for expenditures on clothing, utilities, and shelter, along with state-level differences in housing costs. To calculate family resources, the SPM adds non-cash government benefits and tax credits to cash income, and subtracts out-of-pocket work, medical, and child care expenses. National and state-level estimates of children living below their SPM poverty threshold come from the Current Population Survey and are available for children overall and by race/ethnicity.
The California Poverty Measure (CPM), a joint project of the Public Policy Institute of California and the Stanford University Center on Poverty and Inequality, incorporates California-specific threshold and resource adjustments, and allows for county-level and demographic subgroup estimates of child poverty. The following CPM indicators related to child poverty are available:
- Poverty thresholds for families with children by family composition, for renters and owners with mortgages
- Estimates of children living in poverty and deep poverty, overall and by age group, race/ethnicity, family type, family citizenship status, family education level, and family employment status
- Estimates of the extent to which social safety net programs reduce child poverty and deep poverty, by program type
A project of the Center for Women's Welfare at the University of Washington, the California Family Economic Self-Sufficiency Standard measures the amount of income a family of a certain composition in a specific county needs to adequately meet its basic needs without public or private assistance. Kidsdata.org provides self-sufficiency standards for six common family types at the county level along with state- and county-level estimates of the percentage of families with children living below their standard.
In addition to these measures kidsdata.org also offers:
- Median family income (the income level at which half of families earn more and half earn less), by family type, from ACS
- Household income distribution by quintile (the percentage of aggregate household income earned by each income quintile), from ACS
- Gini index of household income inequality (a summary measure of the difference between the observed distribution of household income and a perfectly equal distribution, ranging from 0 and 1), from ACS
- The number and rate of children participating in CalWORKs (California's Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program), from the California Department of Social Services
*Depending on the indicator, ACS data are available as single-year estimates for counties and county groups, as five-year estimates for counties, cities, and school districts with populations of at least 10,000, or as five-year estimates for legislative districts.
- Family Income and Poverty
- Children in Poverty, by Race/Ethnicity
- Children Living in Areas of Concentrated Poverty
- Children in Deep Poverty
- Median Family Income, by Family Type
- Household Income Distribution, by Quintile
- Gini Index of Household Income Inequality
- Income Level for Children Relative to Poverty
- Income Level for Children Relative to Poverty, by Family Type
- Children Living in Low-Income Working Families
- Mothers with a Recent Birth Living in Families in Poverty
- Mothers with a Recent Birth Living in Low-Income Families
- Children in Poverty - Supplemental Poverty Measure (California & U.S. Only)
- Poverty Thresholds - California Poverty Measure, by Family Composition and Housing Tenure
- Children in Poverty - California Poverty Measure
- Children in Deep Poverty - California Poverty Measure
- Poverty-Reducing Effects of the Social Safety Net - California Poverty Measure, by Program Type and Poverty Level (California Only)
- Self-Sufficiency Standard, by Family Composition
- Families Living Below Self-Sufficiency Standard
- Children Participating in CalWORKs
- Student Demographics
- Early Care and Education
- Food Security
- Childhood Adversity and Resilience
- Children with Adverse Experiences (Parent Reported), by Number (CA & U.S. Only)
- Children with Adverse Experiences (Parent Reported), by Type (CA & U.S. Only)
- Children with Two or More Adverse Experiences (Parent Reported), by Race/Ethnicity (CA & U.S. Only)
- Prevalence of Childhood Hardships (Maternal Retrospective)
- Basic Needs Not Met (Maternal Retrospective)
- Family Hunger (Maternal Retrospective)
- Moved Due to Problems Paying Rent or Mortgage (Maternal Retrospective)
- Prevalence of Adverse Childhood Experiences (Adult Retrospective; CA Only)
- Housing Affordability and Resources
- Fair Market Rent, by Unit Size
- Households with a High Housing Cost Burden
- Children Living in Crowded Households
- Children Living in Households with a Broadband-Connected Device, by Age Group
- Health Care
- Medicaid (Medi-Cal) or Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) Coverage
- Medicaid (Medi-Cal) or CHIP Coverage, by Age Group (California & U.S. Only)
- Medicaid (Medi-Cal) and CHIP Yearly Enrollment (California & U.S. Only)
- Medi-Cal Average Monthly Enrollment
- Medical Care Delayed or Forgone in Past Year
- Usual Source of Health Care
- Health Status
- Why This Topic Is Important
Income and well being are intricately linked. Poverty can alter children's developmental trajectories in cognitive, socio-emotional, and physical health (1). The effects of poverty on child health and well being can begin during pregnancy, as low-income women are more likely to experience malnutrition and stress, and are less likely to receive adequate prenatal care (2). Children who face economic hardship when they are young, or who experience deep and prolonged poverty, are at greatest risk for poor outcomes (1). The effects of poverty and the stress associated with it can be lasting, contributing to increased risk of not completing high school, poor adult health, and poor employment outcomes, among other adverse consequences (1, 3).
The impacts extend beyond individuals, too. It is estimated that child poverty costs the U.S. more than $1 trillion annually in direct and indirect health costs, increased child homelessness and maltreatment, loss of economic productivity, and costs associated with crime and incarceration (4). Every dollar spent on childhood poverty reduction strategies could reduce this economic fallout by seven dollars (4).The link between income and wellness is evident even for those living above the poverty threshold. A health gradient exists along the economic spectrum such that health status improves as income level increases; e.g., the health of those in the middle-income range tends to be inferior to those in higher-income groups (3). This is especially concerning given that income inequality in the U.S. has been increasing in recent decades (5).
Rates of poverty tend to be highest among children under age 5, those in immigrant or single-parent families, and African American/black, American Indian/Alaska Native, and Hispanic/Latino children (1, 3).
For more information, see kidsdata.org’s Research & Links section.
Sources for this narrative:
1. American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Community Pediatrics. (2021). Poverty and child health in the United States. Pediatrics, 137(4), e20160339. Retrieved from: https://publications.aap.org/pediatrics/article/137/4/e20160339/81482/Poverty-and-Child-Health-in-the-United-States
2. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. (2020). Birth settings in America: Outcomes, quality, access, and choice. National Academies Press. Retrieved from: https://nap.nationalacademies.org/catalog/25636/birth-settings-in-america-outcomes-quality-access-and-choice
3. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. (2019). A roadmap to reducing child poverty. National Academies Press. Retrieved from: https://nap.nationalacademies.org/catalog/25246/a-roadmap-to-reducing-child-poverty
4. McLaughlin, M., & Rank, M. R. (2018). Estimating the economic cost of childhood poverty in the United States. Social Work Research, 42(2), 73-83. Retrieved from: https://academic.oup.com/swr/article-abstract/42/2/73/4956930
5. Stone, C., et al. (2020). A guide to statistics on historical trends in income inequality. Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Retrieved from: https://www.cbpp.org/research/poverty-and-inequality/a-guide-to-statistics-on-historical-trends-in-income-inequality
- How Children Are Faring
In 2016-2020, an estimated 17% of California children lived below the federal poverty threshold ($26,246 annually for a family of two adults and two children in 2020). Across counties with data, official child poverty rates ranged from 6% in San Mateo to more than 30% in Imperial. In Tehama County in 2016-2020, more than one in six children lived in deep poverty—i.e., on annual income lower than half the federal poverty threshold ($13,123 for two adults and two children in 2020).
The Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM) accounts for expenses (e.g., state-level differences in housing costs) and resources (e.g., government safety net program benefits) not captured in the official poverty measure. According to SPM estimates, 13% of California children lived in poverty in 2020. California's SPM child poverty rate consistently exceeds comparable U.S. figures. More than one in five African American/black and Hispanic/Latino children in California lived below their SPM threshold in 2018-2020, compared with fewer than one in twelve of their white and multiracial peers.
The California Poverty Measure (CPM) builds on the SPM by adjusting for California-specific safety net policies and for regional variation in the cost of living within the state. CPM data for fall 2021 show that 9% of children statewide lived in poverty and 1.7% lived in deep poverty. In the absence of social safety net programs, it is estimated that the child poverty rate would have been nearly 20 percentage points higher and the deep poverty rate more than 9 percentage points higher. Local CPM child poverty rates varied from 7% to 12% across the state's ten most populous counties and from 3% to 17% across legislative districts with data. Overall, children whose parents are single, non-U.S. citizens, or who did not finish high school tend to experience higher rates of CPM poverty and deep poverty than children in families with married parents, U.S. citizens, and higher levels of educational attainment.
The Self-Sufficiency Standard (SSS) represents the estimated income a family needs to adequately meet its basic needs without public or private assistance. Across California counties, the SSS for a family of two adults and two school-aged children in 2018 ranged from $52,566 (Modoc) to $114,215 (Marin) annually. In 2016, nearly half (48%) of all families with children statewide lived on incomes below their SSS.Rates of poverty among California women with a recent birth—and, by extension, their children—are especially high. Statewide, an estimated 41% of mothers with a birth in 2013-2014 lived in families with income below the federal poverty guideline ($23,850 for a family of four in 2014); for African American/black and Hispanic/Latina mothers, the poverty rate was 60%, compared with 20% or less for Asian/Pacific Islander and white mothers.
Income is not distributed evenly across California households and regions. Statewide and nationally, when households are divided by income into five equally sized groups, those in the highest quintile earned an estimated 52% of all household income in 2016-2020, compared with a 3% share of total income earned by households in the lowest quintile. Among counties with data, median annual income for families with children ranged from $48,294 in Tulare County to $182,607 in Marin County in 2016-2020. Marin County also had the highest level of household income inequality among counties with data in 2016-2020, as measured by the Gini index.
The CalWORKs program, which provides cash aid and services to needy families, served more than 720,000 California children—a rate of 80 per 1,000—in 2020. Among counties with data, participation in CalWORKs ranged from 9 per 1,000 children in San Mateo County to 184 per 1,000 in Del Norte County.
- Policy Implications
Poverty has multiple causes and dimensions, many of which public policy can address. Investments in public benefits for children, pregnant women, and families who lack adequate resources for food, clothing, health care, and shelter are highly cost-effective, as are tax credits, parental work support, and other safety net programs that help families meet basic needs in times of financial instability (1, 2). Reducing child poverty, and income inequality more broadly, requires long-term commitments from leaders at the local, state, and federal levels, as well as a broad policy strategy targeting poverty's diverse root causes.
Most low-income families in California have at least one working adult, and while the state has made substantial progress in supporting families in recent years—e.g., through the California Earned Income Tax Credit, Young Child Tax Credit, universal school meals, and minimum wage increases—additional work is needed to address disproportionately high poverty rates among children of color and immigrant families, and to ensure that all Californians have the opportunity to thrive (1, 3, 4).
Policy and program options that could influence family income and poverty include:
For more information, see kidsdata.org’s Research & Links section or visit Public Policy Institute of California, California Budget and Policy Center, and Center for Law and Social Policy. Also see Policy Implications on kidsdata.org under Food Security, Housing Affordability and Resources, Health Care, and Early Care and Education.
- Ensuring that all eligible families benefit from safety net programs—e.g., cash aid, tax credits, and nutrition assistance—through outreach, elimination of administrative barriers, and increased coordination across programs; also, improving access to the safety net for families with mixed immigration status, who comprise a third of California families in deep poverty (1, 3, 4, 5)
- Continuing to strengthen the CalWORKs program, which provides cash assistance and employment services, ensuring that monthly grants support an adequate living standard for all families, and moving away from work requirements (1, 3)
- Promoting efforts to maintain and expand federal and state earned income and child tax credits, increasing the amount of cash provided, making credits fully refundable, and broadening eligibility (1, 3, 6, 7)
- Continuing to increase investments in high-quality, affordable child care, expanding the number of low-income infants and toddlers receiving state-funded subsidies, and reimbursing providers at rates that are tied the actual cost of effectively recruiting, retaining, and compensating a skilled child-care workforce (3, 4)
- Strengthening and increasing participation in California's Paid Family Leave program by raising the rate of earnings replacement and providing job protection for those who take time away from work to care for or bond with a new child (3, 4)
- Promoting state and local policies to increase the supply of affordable housing, provide emergency rental assistance and legal aid for families at risk of losing their homes, and expand supportive services for those experiencing housing instability or homelessness (3, 8)
- Supporting ongoing efforts to ensure that all children—irrespective of income or immigration status—have comprehensive, continuous, and affordable health insurance coverage; as part of this, maintaining investments in Medi-Cal to improve quality of care, streamline enrollment processes, and expand outreach to families (1, 4, 9, 10)
- Using lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic to reduce fragmentation across safety net programs and plan effectively for future crises or economic downturns (1)
- Continuing to strengthen child support enforcement programs that work effectively with non-custodial parents and ensure that support reaches families in need (11)
- Exploring ambitious poverty-reduction strategies that go beyond the current safety net and status quo, and addressing the root causes of poverty and income inequality through institutional reforms (12)
Sources for this narrative:
1. Danielson, C., et al. (2021). California's future: Safety net. Public Policy Institute of California. Retrieved from: https://www.ppic.org/publication/californias-future-safety-net
2. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. (2019). A roadmap to reducing child poverty. National Academies Press. Retrieved from: https://nap.nationalacademies.org/catalog/25246/a-roadmap-to-reducing-child-poverty
3. California Budget and Policy Center. (2022). The 2022-23 California state budget explained. Retrieved from: https://calbudgetcenter.org/resources/2022-23-california-state-budget-explained
4. Children Now. (2022). 2022 California children's report card: A survey of kids’ well-being and roadmap for the future. Retrieved from: https://www.childrennow.org/portfolio-posts/2022-california-childrens-report-card
5. California WIC Association. (2021). Linking WIC for health equity: Expanding access to WIC through horizontal integration. Retrieved from: https://www.calwic.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/Expanding-Access-to-WIC-Through-Horizontal-Integration_07_21.pdf
6. Anderson, A., & Kimberlin, S. (2022). How California can support workers and families with the CalEITC. California Budget and Policy Center. Retrieved from: https://calbudgetcenter.org/resources/how-california-can-support-workers-and-families-with-the-caleitc
7. Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. (2022). Policy basics: The Child Tax Credit. Retrieved from: https://www.cbpp.org/research/federal-tax/the-child-tax-credit
8. Mesquita, A., & Kimberlin, S. (2022). Who is experiencing housing hardship in California? California Budget and Policy Center. Retrieved from: https://calbudgetcenter.org/resources/who-is-experiencing-housing-hardship-in-california
9. The Children's Partnership. (2021). Why is children's enrollment in Medi-Cal lagging in California at a time when children are in most need? Retrieved from: https://www.childrenspartnership.org/research/medical-brief
10. California State Auditor. (2022). The Department of Health Care Services is still not doing enough to ensure that children in Medi-Cal receive preventive health services. Retrieved from: https://www.auditor.ca.gov/reports/2022-502/index
11. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families. (2022). Office of Child Support Enforcement annual report to Congress FY 2019. Retrieved from: https://www.acf.hhs.gov/css/report/fy-2019-annual-report-congress
12. Grusky, D. B., et al. (n.d.). Ending poverty in California: A blueprint for a just and inclusive economy. End Poverty in California. Retrieved from: https://endpovertyinca.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/02/policy-paper.pdf
- Websites with Related Information
- California Budget and Policy Center
- Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP): Income and Work Supports
- Center for the Study of Social Policy: Addressing Poverty
- Center on Budget and Policy Priorities
- Child Trends: Poverty and Economic Wellbeing
- First Focus on Children: Poverty and Family Economics
- Institute for Women's Policy Research
- MDRC: Work and Income Security
- National Center for Children in Poverty. Bank Street Graduate School of Education.
- Opportunity Insights
- Pew Charitable Trusts: Finance and Economy
- Public Policy Institute of California: Health and Safety Net
- Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity
- Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality
- Supplemental Poverty Measure. U.S. Census Bureau.
- U.S. Partnership on Mobility from Poverty. Urban Institute.
- Urban Institute: Poverty
- Key Reports and Research
- A Guide to Understanding Poverty Measures Used to Assess Economic Well-Being in California. (2019). California Budget and Policy Center. Anderson, A., & Kimberlin, S.
- A Roadmap to Reducing Child Poverty. (2019). National Academies Press. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.
- An Update on the Portrait of Promise: Demographic Report on Health and Mental Health Equity in California. (2020). California Dept. of Public Health, Office of Health Equity.
- Basic Facts About Low-Income Children: Children Under 18 Years, 2019. (2021). National Center for Children in Poverty. Koball, H., et al.
- California's Future: Safety Net. (2021). Public Policy Institute of California. Danielson, C., et al.
- Ending Poverty in California: A Blueprint for a Just and Inclusive Economy. End Poverty in California. Grusky, D. B., et al.
- Escaping Poverty: Predictors of Persistently Poor Children’s Economic Success. (2017). U.S. Partnership on Mobility from Poverty. Ratcliffe, C., & Kalish, E.
- Five Ways Neighborhoods of Concentrated Disadvantage Harm Children. (2018). Child Trends. Sacks, V.
- How Much It Costs to Struggle: The Real Cost Measure in California 2023. United Ways of California.
- Lessons From a Historic Decline in Child Poverty. (2022). Child Trends. Thomson, D., et al.
- Our Kids, Our Future: Solutions to Child Poverty in the U.S. (2018). U.S. Child Poverty Action Group.
- Poverty and Child Health in the United States. (2021). Pediatrics. American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Community Pediatrics.
- Poverty in California. (2022). Public Policy Institute of California. Danielson, C., et al.
- Race and Economic Opportunity in the United States: An Intergenerational Perspective. (2019). National Bureau of Economic Research. Chetty, R., et al.
- Recommended Strategies to Address Deep Child Poverty and Child Poverty in California. (2018). California Lifting Children and Families Out of Poverty Task Force.
- Reducing Poverty Without Community Displacement: Indicators of Inclusive Prosperity in U.S. Neighborhoods. (2022). Brookings Metro. Acharya, R., & Morris, R.
- Restoring an Inclusionary Safety Net for Children in Immigrant Families: A Review of Three Social Policies. (2021). Health Affairs. Acevedo-Garcia, D., et al.
- The Cost of Being Californian: 2021. (2021). Insight Center for Community Economic Development. Price, A., & Villarosa, A.
- Turning One Year of Age in a Low Socioeconomic Environment: A Portrait of Disadvantage. (2017). Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics. Hunt, H., & Betancourt, L. M.
- What Explains the Widespread Material Hardship Among Low-Income Families with Children? (2018). Urban Institute. Karpman, M., et al.
- County/Regional Reports
- A Portrait of Los Angeles County: Los Angeles County Human Development Report 2017-2018. (2018). Measure of America. Lewis, K., & Burd-Sharps, S.
- A Portrait of Sonoma County: 2021 Update. (2022). Measure of America. Lewis, K., et al.
- Annual Report on the Conditions of Children in Orange County. Orange County Children's Partnership.
- Community Health Improvement Plan for Los Angeles County. Los Angeles County Dept. of Public Health.
- Important Facts About Kern’s Children. Kern County Network for Children.
- Live Well San Diego Report Card on Children, Families, and Community. The Children’s Initiative.
- Orange County Community Indicators Report. Orange County Business Council, et al.
- Pathway to Progress: Indicators of Young Child Well-Being in Los Angeles County. First 5 LA.
- San Mateo County All Together Better. San Mateo County Health.
- Santa Clara County Children's Data Book. Santa Clara County Office of Education, et al.
- Santa Clara County Public Health Department: Open Data Portal
- Santa Monica Youth Wellbeing Report Card. Santa Monica Cradle to Career.
- Spotlight on the Inland Empire. (2021). Measure of America. Lewis, K.
- Youth Need Data. Get Healthy San Mateo County.
- More Data Sources For Family Income and Poverty
- 2023 KIDS COUNT Data Book: State Trends in Child Well-Being. Annie E. Casey Foundation.
- California Family Needs Calculator. Insight Center for Community Economic Development.
- California Health and Human Services Open Data Portal. California Health and Human Services Agency.
- California Health Interview Survey. UCLA Center for Health Policy Research.
- Community Commons: Community Health Needs Assessments
- Health, United States – Data Finder. National Center for Health Statistics.
- Maternal and Infant Health Assessment (MIHA). California Dept. of Public Health & University of California San Francisco.
- State-Level Data for Understanding Child Poverty. (2022). Child Trends.
- The Well-Being and Basic Needs Survey. Urban Institute.
- U.S. Census Bureau: Poverty
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