2.5 Million Californians in Deep Poverty, Many of Them Children, Analysts Say

Of the 2.5 million Californians living in deep poverty, about one-third are children, according to an issue brief released last week by the California Budget and Policy Center, an independent, not-for-profit budget analyst.

“Women and children make up a larger share of Californians in deep poverty than their share of the overall state population,” the report said. “California has one of the largest economies in the world and is home to incredible prosperity, but that prosperity is out of reach for far too many.”

About six million people in California live below federal poverty level, but nearly half of them actually have incomes below half of the federal poverty level. For example, a family of three at federal poverty level earns below $19,000 a year while that same size family in deep poverty lives on less than $9,500 a year, which amounts to less than $200 a week, according to the report.

The policy brief found that:

  • Of the 2.5 million Californians in deep poverty, 32.7% are children;
  • Of the roughly 1.7 million adults with incomes below half the poverty line, 57% percent are women;
  • 40% of those born into deep poverty had incomes in the bottom fifth of the income distribution as adults (compared to 18% born in middle-income families); and
  • About 45% of adults who were persistently poor during childhood lived in poverty at age 35 (compared to less than 1% of adults who never experienced childhood poverty).

The deep poverty numbers for so many of California’s children are disturbing in part because of what it portends for so many adults in the state, the report said. Adults in deep poverty often have physical disabilities and chronic illnesses and struggle with homelessness, mental health problems and substance abuse.

Those problems lead to low levels of employment, the report said. Almost 77% of deep poverty adults over age 25 have not worked in the past year.

Strong safety-net programs can be a factor in breaking out of the cycle of poverty, the report said. It recommended increasing utilization of CalFresh, where only about two-thirds of eligible Californians participate, and putting more money into CalWORKs, the state’s welfare-to-work program.

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