California has highest poverty rate of all US states, new report finds

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Simran Sarin/Staff

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California has the highest poverty rate of any U.S. state, according to new statistics released last month by the United States Census Bureau.

In its report, the Census Bureau used cost of living to determine poverty level. The report utilized a standard called the “supplemental poverty measure,” or SPM, which incorporates various factors including expenditures on food, clothing, shelter and utilities, as well as geographic variations, in housing costs.

According to the Census Bureau, individuals are considered poor if the resources they share with others in the household are “not enough” to meet their basic needs.

The Census Bureau began reporting SPM in 2011, to enhance the previously used “official poverty measure,” which applies a universal poverty threshold based on income. In other words, with the official poverty measure, the Census Bureau considers anyone earning less than a certain income impoverished, whether they live in California or Mississippi. SPM, however, takes into account that the same income cannot go as far in California as it can in other states.

A little more than 20 percent of Californians — about 8 million people — live in poverty, according to the state’s SPM rate. By comparison, in Mississippi, the state with the highest poverty rate by the official poverty measure, only about 16 percent live in poverty, according to the state’s SPM.

According to UC Berkeley’s Basic Needs Security Committee chair Ruben E. Canedo, the experiences of campus students living in poverty provide context for the state’s high poverty rate. Canedo also stressed the importance of supporting students living in poverty.

“To be poor in the Bay Area … it’s survival,” Canedo said. “When you support the members of your community that are most challenged, the entire community benefits.”

While California’s poverty rate remains high, the state’s SPM has declined from 23.4 percent, which was the average from 2011 through 2013, to 20.4 percent in 2016.

Campus spokesperson Adam Ratliff said California’s high housing costs, which also raise the state’s SPM, can make living in Berkeley difficult for all students.

“Financing an education, including at UC Berkeley, can be challenging,” Ratliff said in an email. “Some costs like housing are in part reflective of our location in an expensive region.”

Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín, however, said he believes UC Berkeley contributes to the housing crisis in Berkeley by not adequately housing all of its students.

“The fact that the university has not built enough housing for students has a direct impact on the city’s housing market,” Arreguín said. “The university has not built enough student housing for the thousands of students at Cal. … It’s unacceptable.”

Contact Sam Levin at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @SamJLevin.