California Continues to Lead America in Poverty

California remains America’s poverty leader, with 20.4 of residents in poverty, according to data just released by the United States Census Bureau.

The Census Bureau publishes the three-year-trend of the “Supplemental Poverty Measure.” It provides a broader calculation of state-by-state poverty that also factors in state differences for cost-of-living and the impact of government spending that supposedly assists low-income families and individuals.

About 46,686,000, or 14.7 percent, of U.S. residents live in poverty, down from 15.1 percent in last year’s survey. California, with 7,946,000, accounts for about one-in-six U.S. residents living in poverty. It saw little change from the last survey and now accounts for more impoverished residents than the next two states of Texas and Florida combined.

Many progressive analysts blame the impact of California’s higher housing costs and the impact of higher housing prices and other costs. But according to the National Bureau of Economic Research, the difference in housing costs should be more than offset by California’s welfare benefits, which are almost 280 percent higher than the package offered by Texas, 89 percent larger than the one in Illinois, and 20 percent larger than benefits in New York.

The biggest reason California leads America in poverty may be that one of the highest demographic characteristics for poverty is the 25.6 percent rate for “not a citizen,” according to the U.S. Census Table A-1 for Characteristics. That is much higher than the traditionally blamed racial characteristic of 21.8 percent of Hispanics and 21.5 percent of blacks in poverty.

According to the latest Pew Research Center survey, of the 11.1 million illegal aliens in the United States, California, with about 11 percent of the U.S. population, had 2.35 million, or 22 percent, of the illegal alien population.

The National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) also reported, in “Immigrants Tend to Live in High Welfare Benefit States,” that “the generous welfare benefits offered by some states have magnetic effects and alter the geographic sorting of immigrants in the United States” – attracting many to California. As California rose from offering medium benefit levels in 1970 to “almost the most generous in the nation” by 1990, the benefit levels served as a magnet for less-educated immigrants.

NBER had previously reported that there is a “clustering” relationship for immigrants receiving welfare, as opposed to those who are not. American native populations do not cluster in the same way as immigrants, because they find it expensive or costly in other ways to move from one state to another. But immigrants who have decided to make the costly move to the U.S. must only decide which state is most advantageous to them, and the extra cost of reaching that state may be small for an immigrant compared to a native.

NBER found a direct correlation between the increasing the relative generosity of California’s welfare system and attracting immigrants. By 1990, California was home to 9.6 percent of U.S. natives who did not receive welfare and 11.5 percent of U.S. natives who did receive welfare. Yet it was the also home to 27.6 percent of the nation’s immigrant households not receiving welfare and 37.6 percent of immigrant households that did receive welfare.


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