Poverty data does not surprise us – and that’s a bad thing.

Poverty data does not surprise us–and that’s a bad thing. State surplus this year provides an opportunity to do something about this once and for all.
Raquel F. Donoso

For me fighting poverty is personal. I am a product of programs that provided my family the opportunity to buy a home, me the ability to receive a first-class public university education, and my son the opportunity to attend world class childcare. That is why I have dedicated my life to ensuring every family has the same chance.

The California Budget Project (CBP) released data this week that looks at poverty in California 50 years since the War on Poverty began. While there has been progress, it is clear that many families experienced big setbacks during the recession which still remain to this day. Last year, nearly 16 percent of Californians (6 million) lived in poverty. The child poverty rate is even higher, with 22.5 percent of the state’s children (2.1 million) living in families with incomes below the federal poverty line,which is an income of $18,498 for a family of three with two children. 1 in 3 of these children is Latino.

poverty map
What is more troubling is the variation of poverty rates in California. As the map below shows, counties like Santa Clara, Marin, and San Mateo have poverty rates below 10%, while Fresno, Tulare, Imperial have poverty rates at 20%-25%. This means in Fresno 1 in 4 people live below the poverty line, which is far below what many experts believe is sufficient to support a family in California and much of the U.S. In addition to this, for many families the weak labor market and financial devastation created by the Great Recession is not a thing of the past.

At the Latino Community Foundation, this information is not surprising. We ask our partners, Latino-based organizations funded by LCF, information on the family income of those they serve. On average, the majority of the responses show that family incomes are between $20,000-$25,000 a year for a family of four. Much more needs to be done to change this reality. Not just because it is the right thing to do, but because everyone does better when all boats are lifted. Children born into families that make more money do better – they do better in school, they have better health indicators, and overall add infinitely more to the prosperity of a society.

The CBP report does acknowledge that the War on Poverty programs, such as food stamps and cash aid, did make an impact in reducing poverty. Social policies aimed at tackling poverty work, but we can do better. California needs its own War on Poverty platform that moves policies forward based on current and future demographics and the needs of all residents in the state. As a single mother that received assistance during college I know first-hand that work training programs focus all too often on jobs with little or no upward mobility and assistance is tied to arcane rules.

I know there are efforts throughout the State to reduce poverty and LCF partners with many organizations to help support this mission. California is set to have the biggest surplus in more than a decade. At a recent budget briefing it seemed that the discussions in Sacramento were leaning to conservative actions rather than reinstating safety-net programs that have been devastated by budget cuts over the years and contributed to growing inequality and increased poverty.

With the 12th largest economy in the world it is critical that we come together and do something to address the chronic poverty we see in so many communities throughout California. Actions can be taken, with little funds, to bring programs that fight poverty into the 21st century and make them work better for a new wave of California residents and families. However, to really change the current state of affairs and build a more prosperous State that does not allow any child to go to be bed hungry – will require greater, more effective investments and leadership.

To read more about the history of the war on poverty: click here