Why California Has the Nation’s Worst Poverty Rate, by Ryan McMaken

One thing governments are good at producing is poverty, and California has lots of government. From Ryan McMaken at mises.org:

Earlier this week, the LA Times reminded its readers that California has the highest poverty rate in the nation.

Specifically, when using the Census Bureau’s most recent” Supplemental Poverty Measure” (SPM), California clocks in with a poverty rate of 20 percent, which places it as worst in the nation.

To be sure, California is running quite closely with Florida and Louisiana, but we can certainly say that California is a top contender when it comes to poverty:

supplemental.png

This continues to be something of a black eye for California politicians who imagine themselves to be the enlightened elite of North America. The fact that one in five Californians is below this poverty line doesn’t exactly lend itself to crowing about the state’s success in its various wars on poverty.

Many conservative sites have seized on the information to say “I told you so” and claim this shows that “blue-state” policies fail. One should be careful with this, of course, since there are plenty of red states in the top ten as well. Moreover, some blue states, like Massachusetts, are doing moderately well by this measure:

supp_poverty.PNG

In the realm of political punditry,  though, it matters a great deal whether one is using the regular poverty measure, or the SPM. For one, in the regular poverty measure, California ranks better than Texas, and leftists love to use the standard poverty rate to talk about how truly awful Texas and other red states are. The Supplemental Poverty Measure allows Texans to talk about how awful California is.

If we’re going to use census data to guess the prevalence of low-income households, though, the SPM is greatly superior to the old poverty rate. There’s a reason, after all, that the Census Bureau developed it, and the Bureau has long warned that poverty rates using the old measure don’t make for good comparisons across state lines.

The old poverty measure was a far more crude measure that did not take local costs into account, did not include poverty-assistance income, and basically ignored what can be immense differences in the cost of living in different locations. Many commentators often love to note how the median household income in many red states are below the national average — but then conveniently ignore how low the cost of living is in those places.

To continue reading: Why California Has the Nation’s Worst Poverty Rate

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