Nearly a third of California’s households “struggle each month to meet basic needs,” largely because of the state’s high cost of living, a new study by United Ways of California concludes.
The study relies on what the organization calls a “real cost measure” that goes well beyond the Census Bureau’s official poverty measure, which dates back to the early 1960s and pegs California’s rate at just half of what the United Ways study found.
The organization’s methodology is, however, similar in thrust to an alternative poverty measure that includes all forms of income and is adjusted for the cost of living. By that measure, nearly a quarter of California’s 39 million residents are living in poverty.
The United Ways study is centered on a household budget “composed of costs all families much address, such as food, housing, transportation, child care, out-of-pocket health expenses and taxes.”
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While overall, by that method, 31 percent of California’s families “lack income adequate to meet their basic needs,” the rates vary widely by ethnic group and locale.
Over half of Latino families fall under the United Ways poverty measure, as well as 40 percent of black families. White families (20 percent) and Asian-American households 28 percent) are better off.
Geographically, poverty rates range from as high as 80 percent in inner city Los Angeles to as low as 9 percent in suburban Contra Costa County.
The study identified housing costs as the major factor in poverty, with struggling families spending over half of their incomes for shelter, with rents of two-bedroom housing units ranging from $584 a month in Modoc County to $1,905 in Marin, San Francisco and San Mateo counties.