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A July 2018 report found 45.8 percent of children in California live at or near poverty / Capital Public Radio file photo. A July 2018 report found 45.8 percent of children in California live at or near poverty / Capital Public Radio file photo.

A July 2018 report found 45.8 percent of children in California live at or near poverty / Capital Public Radio file photo.

Chris Nichols
By Chris Nichols September 19, 2018

TRUE: Nearly half of California’s children are ‘at or near poverty’ when considering cost-of-living

Democratic candidate for governor Gavin Newsom recently described California as both "the richest and poorest state." The economy is booming for many, he said, while millions of others are mired in poverty.

That includes nearly half of the state’s children, when considering the state’s high "cost-of-living," he claimed.

"Close to half of the children (are) at or near poverty," Newsom said while campaigning in Los Angeles County on Sept. 10, 2018. "How can that be in this place, this extraordinary place, in the world’s 5th largest economy? We must do more and we must do better."

Did Newsom get his facts right on this sad statistic? We set out on a fact check.

Our research

Newsom’s campaign spokesman said the claim is supported by the July 2018 report "Child Poverty in California." 

That study produced an updated look at what researchers call the California Poverty Measure, which is a joint research effort by the Public Policy Institute of California and the Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality to closely examine poverty in the state. 

It found that 45.8 percent of children in California were "at or near poverty" in 2016, the most recent year examined. That matches with Newsom’s statement of "close to half."

But we wanted to know how researchers came up with that number.

Caroline Danielson, a PPIC policy director and co-author of the study, said the California Poverty Measure takes into account California’s high cost-of-living, as well as factors that offset those costs, such as the state’s social safety net programs.

The report found the share of children in poverty was 21 percent. It found an additional nearly 25 percent lived "near poverty," meaning their family incomes was one-and-a-half times the poverty line, Danielson said.

In the report, the income threshold for poverty varies by region.

In a high-cost county, including many places along the coast, the average threshold for a family of four is $30,000 per year, Danielson explained. A family that makes less than that would be considered in poverty.

In that same county, near poverty includes families whose incomes range from $30,000 to $45,000, or one-and-a-half times the poverty line.

Other counties had lower income thresholds.

To reach 45.8 percent figure, the study combined children who live at or near poverty in all regions of the state.

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Danielson said the state’s child poverty rate has declined from 25 percent in 2011, the first year PPIC produced the California Poverty Measure, to 21 percent in 2016.

Census figures also support claim

The finding that nearly half of California’s children live at or near poverty is also supported by data in the U.S. Census Bureau’s Supplemental Poverty Measure. An updated version of that report, which also takes into account cost-of-living, was released this month.

For 2016, it found 22.5 percent of California’s children live in poverty while a total of 45 percent live at or near poverty, according to a review of that report’s 2016 public-use dataset conducted by Danielson at our request.

The Census Bureau’s Supplemental Poverty Measure has gained wide acceptance among researchers over the agency’s Official Poverty Measure, which does not take state-by-state variations in cost into account.

Two researchers, however, raised questions in a recent op-ed in the San Francisco Chronicle about relying too much on that measure. David Brady, professor of public policy and director of the Blum Initiative on Global and Regional Poverty at UC Riverside and Zachary Parolin, a researcher at the University of Antwerp’s Herman Deleeck Centre for Social Policy, asked "whether California’s poverty rate should depend so exclusively and overwhelmingly on housing costs."

They proposed using questions about median income, alongside the supplemental poverty measure, to arrive at poverty rates.

This isn’t the first claim we’ve fact-checked on California’s dismal poverty rate. In January 2017, we rated True a claim by Republican Assemblyman Chad Mayes that California had the nation’s highest overall poverty rate, when including children and adults and factoring in cost-of-living. Mayes, at the time, was citing the state’s 20.6 percent overall poverty rate for the period 2013 to 2015.

That rate has dropped slightly but remains the highest in the nation at 19 percent, according to the Supplemental Poverty Measure for 2017.

Newsom’s plan for child poverty

Newsom has described California’s child poverty as "a moral outrage." His campaign website includes several proposals for reducing it. They include, among other plans, creating college savings accounts for every incoming kindergartener; expanding the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit for very low-income earners; and increasing CalWORKS grants, a financial assistance program for families in need.

Our ruling

Democratic candidate for governor Gavin Newsom recently claimed "close to half of the children" in California are "at or near poverty," when you consider the state’s cost-of-living.

A July 2018 report by the Public Policy Institute of California backs up Newsom’s statement. It accounts for cost-of-living in each region of the state and found 45.8 percent of the state’s children live at or near poverty.

Another report, the U.S. Census Bureau’s Supplemental Poverty Measure, also confirms the claim.

Newsom’s statement is supported by credible reports and includes necessary context.

We rate his claim True.


TRUE – The statement is accurate and there’s nothing significant missing.

Click here for more on the six PolitiFact ratings and how we select facts to check.

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"Close to half of the children" in California are "at or near poverty," when you consider cost-of-living.
Monday, September 10, 2018

Our Sources

Gavin Newsom, campaign speech, Sept. 10, 2018

Nathan Click, spokesman, Gavin Newsom for Governor, email exchange Sept. 17, 2018

Caroline Danielson, policy director and senior fellow, Public Policy Institute of California, phone interview, Sept. 17, 2018

Public Policy Institute of California, Child Poverty in California, July 2018

GavinNewsom.com, Eliminating Child Poverty In California, accessed September 2018

San Francisco Chronicle, op-ed, California’s troubling poverty rate, Sept. 6, 2018

PolitiFact California, TRUE: California has the nation’s highest poverty rate, when factoring in cost-of-living, Jan. 20, 2017

U.S. Census Bureau, "Income and Poverty in the United States: 2017," September 2018

EdSource.com, Child poverty drops in California, but is still the nation’s highest, April 17, 2018

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More by Chris Nichols

TRUE: Nearly half of California’s children are ‘at or near poverty’ when considering cost-of-living

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