One in Five Californians Live in Poverty

Brian and Andrea Rodriguez have been living on San Jose's streets and creeks for the better part of two years now. (James Tensuan/KQED)

A greater share of people live in poverty in California than in any other state, according to a measure used by the U.S. Census Bureau that takes into account the cost of living and government assistance programs.

About 20 percent of Californians lived below the Census’ “supplemental” poverty measure from 2014 to 2016, according to data released by the Bureau on Tuesday. That was exceeded only by the District of Columbia where about 21 percent of people live in poverty. However, a greater number of people in California are poor, close to 8 million.

The supplemental poverty measure factors in the government programs for low-income families and individuals, as well as housing costs, which are not included in the official poverty measure.

Lisa Pickoff-White/KQED

Nationwide, the number of people in poverty fell between 2015 and 2016 as the median household income increased.

But the poverty rate held steady in California despite growth in income. The median household income nationally was $59,039 in 2016, up 3.2 percent from the 2015 median of $57,230.

“I think the fact that California’s poverty rate essentially held steady might mean that rising housing costs are really limiting the extent to which gains in the job market can lift people out of poverty,” said Alissa Anderson, senior policy analyst with the California Budget and Policy Center.

Households in the Northeast had the highest median incomes, earning $64,390 while households in the West inched behind at $64,275.

The new data also show that the San Jose area may be the most expensive place to be poor in the country.

A family of four that is renting in the San Jose area would have to earn more than $37,400 a year to leave poverty. That’s $10,000 more than the national threshold. The San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward region had the second highest poverty threshold in the country, followed by Honolulu.

Lisa Pickoff-White/KQED
One in Five Californians Live in Poverty 14 September,2017Lisa Pickoff-White

  • Kurt thialfad

    By “Californians”, are you including undocumented immigrants? If you excluded this group, would the poverty rate go up or down?

  • Bobby Winter

    Uh, I’m I missing something? How could any measure of poverty for a family of two adults and two children living in San Jose with a mortgage (!) be even close to $37,848 a year? According to Business Insider, “To purchase a single-family home at the national median price, a buyer making a 5 percent down payment would need an income of $52,255, a 10 percent down payment would require an income of $49,504, and $44,004 would be needed for a 20 percent down payment.” And I think those figures are exceptionally optimistic to make it.

  • Sbunny

    I have no idea how anyone especially in the bay area could afford to only make $37,848 when rents on average are $2000 a month. Is that after taxes because even after taxes that only leaves about $13,000 left for all other expenses besides keeping a roof over your head. That’s crazy, I know so many couples who live pay check to pay check who far exceed that $37,848 and it seems to me they’re in poverty.

  • Gina

    California can look forward to these numbers getting worse! Unbridled immigration for the purpose of gaining Democratic voters and then locking them into poverty generationally is standard for the rulers of this state. Feel sorry for the lives of these people. The rest of us suffer in schools, strained highway and medical services. Democrats count on the stupidity of the American voters ( Jonathan Gruber). They are not wrong! Our roads and Bridges, homeless, uneducated are all the result of Leaders who care only about their party’s survival. California voters always deliver telling themselves their superior!


Lisa Pickoff-White

Lisa Pickoff-White is KQED’s data reporter. Lisa specializes in simplifying complex topics and bringing them to life through compelling visuals, including photography and data visualizations. She previously has worked at the Center for Investigative Reporting and other national outlets. Her work has been honored with awards from the Online News Association, Investigative Reporters and Editors, the Society of Professional Journalists and SXSW Interactive.  Follow: @pickoffwhite Email:


Erika Aguilar

Erika Aguilar is a housing reporter for KQED News. She joined the news department August 2017 after a short time producing independent audio projects. Erika covered criminal justice, breaking news and Orange County issues for KPCC public radio in Los Angeles, and wrote stories about the environment for KUT public radio in Austin.  She is a Texas native.

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