Lawmakers ask why nearly 1 in 4 Californians live in poverty

8:33 PM, Mar 12, 2013   |    comments
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SACRAMENTO, CA - California is the most poverty-stricken state in the country, according to a new way the government measures poverty levels.

The old way of measuring poverty failed to take into account things like housing costs that hit California's poor particularly hard. When you consider other factors, the new numbers show nearly one in four people are at the poverty level in California.

When Californians think of the things that set them apart from the rest of the country, poverty is one thing they don't want to hear.

"That breaks my heart," said Cynthia Ryan while waiting in line for food from the Sacramento Food Bank, "I'm a fourth generation California native and I'm sorry to hear that we're number one in this particular level."

Ryan doesn't want to believe it, but when she looks around the line at the food bank, it isn't that hard to believe.

"I come here the second Tuesday of every month. This is what I eat for the month because I can't afford to go to the grocery stores," Ryan said. "If it wasn't for food banks like this, I would be much worse off than I am."

On Tuesday, lawmakers at the Capitol met with experts, including representatives from the U.S. Census Bureau who are using a new system to measure poverty, one that highlights the problems in California.

"California has the highest poverty rate in the country, worse than the Deep South, worse than New York, and the reason for this may surprise many of you, is that for decades researchers have been talking about the problems with the way in which we calculate poverty," Sen. Leland Yee said at the hearing.

Yee said when you take into consideration California's high cost of living and medical expenses, California looks much worse than it did under the traditional way of looking at poverty levels. He hopes the new findings will lead to a better understanding of how to help people out of poverty.

"More assistance programs put out, more care for the homeless, more care for the mentally ill and the disabled," Ryan suggested. "Because we are the population of poverty-stricken people that are in need and need more assistance if we can possibly get it to improve the quality of our lives."

By comparison, under the traditional measure of poverty, California ranks 20th among the 50 states.

It's not until the government considers things like work-related transportation costs, child care, health care and other expenses, that California's poverty rate becomes the highest.


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