Census Poverty Figures Are Bad for U.S., Worse for California

Thursday, September 13, 2012
Poor migrant family during Great Depression (photo: Dorothea Lange)

After a four-year decline, the U.S. poverty rate finally leveled off at 15% last year, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, but California’s suffering grew for the fifth year in a row, reaching its highest level since 1996.

The state’s 16.9% poverty rate was 0.6 points higher than 2010. That means that one out of every six Californians, or around 6.4 million people, lives in poverty, as measured by the federal government. Children are even worse off. Almost one-fourth of California kids are in poverty and about one-third of all Californians in poverty are under 18.

Nationally, 46.2 million people were in poverty last year.

The percentage rise in the overall state poverty rate this past year is not considered statistically significant, but represents a 4.7-point rise from 12.2% in 2006. A family of two adults and two children is considered in poverty when its income is less than $22,811, but that is a national standard that doesn’t take into account California’s higher cost of living.

California's median income in 2011 was $53,367, down a bit from 2010, but still 6.6% higher than the national median of $50,054. The state ranked 15th in the country on a list that was topped by Maryland ($68,876). South Carolina had the lowest median income, $40,084.  

When you don’t have money, you don’t buy health insurance for when bad times hit. And, sure enough, California has a lot of uninsured people compared to the rest of the country. The state’s 19.7% uninsured population is, again, a statistically insignificant 0.3 points worse than 2010, but it’s four points higher than the national rate.

Nationally, 48.6 million people were without health insurance last year. The rate of insured dropped from 16.3% in 2010 to 15.7% last year.

The highest uninsured rate in the country belongs to Texas at 23.8% and the lowest, not surprisingly, can be found in Massachusetts (3.4%), where Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney introduced a universal insurance program as governor that he has since renounced.

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

U.S. Income Gap between Rich, Poor Hits New High (by Don Lee, Los Angeles Times)

US Poverty Rate Unchanged; Record Numbers Persist (by Hope Yen, Associated Press)

Ranking California on Income, Poverty, Uninsured Population (by Mark Lacter, LA Observed)

Nearly One in Four California Children in Poverty, Census Bureau Says (by Daniel Weintraub, HealthyCal)

How California Ranks in Income, Poverty and Health Insurance (by Dan Walters, Sacramento Bee)

Income, Poverty and Health Insurance Coverage: 2011 (U.S. Census Bureau)

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