Note: This is an excerpt of my text, co-authored with David Brady, published in the San Francisco Chronicle on September 7, 2018. You can read the full version here.
At a forum in 2017, Assemblyman Chad Mayes, R-Yucca Valley (San Bernardino County), noted that California has “the highest poverty rate in the nation.” Fact-checkers, progressives and conservatives have joined Mayes in a growing chorus calling attention to the fact that more than 20 percent of Californians lived in poverty from 2014 to 2016 — the highest rate in the nation. Much of this is based on the Census Bureau’s Supplemental Poverty Measure, though the Public Policy Institute of California’s poverty measure finds the same thing.
There is much controversy over poverty measures, but even putting those disagreements aside, California still has the highest poverty rate in the U.S. Why?
It is certainly not, like some conservatives allege, because our social policies are too generous. There is no evidence that a stronger safety net discourages Californians from working. Even among Californians in poverty, nearly 70 percent live in working households. Moreover, the state’s labor force participation rate is significantly higher than other states from Alabama to Arizona that offer much less generous social policies.