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Key Statistics and Resources Child Poverty in California Based on New U.S. Census Data

U.S. Census Bureau data released today reveal that 1.78 million California children (19.9%) lived in poverty in 2016. Children remain the poorest age group. Children of color continue to be disproportionately poor: 26.6% (1,236,452) of Latino children and 29.6% (142,588) of Black children were poor in 2016, compared to 9.6% (221,622) of White children.

Nearly 1 in 12 California children (723,923) lived in deep poverty in 2016, putting them at severe risk of hunger, homelessness, and toxic stress. The Census Bureau’s official poverty measure defines poverty as an annual income below $24,563 for an average family of four, or less than $2,047 a month or $ 67.30 a day. Deep poverty is half of that level. An alternative Census measure, the Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM), suggests that these figures substantially understate how many children face economic hardship in California due to the state’s high cost of living.

The child poverty rate declined from 21.2% in 2015 to 19.9% in 2016, thanks in part to the success of the social safety net. Data from the Census Bureau reveals that government programs are key to reducing poverty, with the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Earned Income Tax Credit, Child Tax Credit, housing subsidies, and other safety net programs lifting millions of children nationally out of poverty.

“It is simply unacceptable that 1 in 5 California children live in poverty, in the sixth largest economy in the world. While child poverty declined in 2016, the recent progress is at risk as Congress and the President propose deep cuts to programs that lift children and families out of poverty. We must call on our policy leaders to protect the safety net against devastating federal cuts, and take bold steps here in California to end child poverty,” said Michele Stillwell-Parvensky, Director of Government Affairs, Policy and Communications at Children’s Defense Fund-California.

A 2016 report by Children’s Defense Fund-California, Ending Child Poverty Now: Local Approaches for California, outlines state and local policy recommendations to ensure parents have jobs that pay enough to support a family and strengthen the social safety net to meet children’s basic needs. “California lawmakers should increase CalWORKs basic needs grant levels for families, continue to expand the California Earned Income Tax Credit (CalEITC), and invest in quality child care,” said Stillwell-Parvensky.

Today’s Census data also indicated continued progress in providing California children health coverage. The rate of uninsured children in California declined to 2.9% in 2016, down 70% since 2009. “Health coverage for California children is at an all-time high thanks to the success of Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, the Affordable Care Act, and California’s Health4All Kids expansion in Medi-Cal. We must continue to move forward, not backwards, to ensure that every child in California has the affordable, comprehensive health coverage they need to thrive and drive the economy of tomorrow,” said Alison Buist, Director of Health Policy at Children’s Defense Fund-California.

Infographics and county-level data on child poverty are available at:

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Cadonna Dory
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Children’s Defense Fund-California (CDF-CA) is a state office of the Children’s Defense Fund, a national child advocacy organization that has worked relentlessly for over 40 years to ensure a level playing field for all children. CDF-CA champions policies and programs that lift children out of poverty, ensure all children have access to health coverage and care and a quality education, and invest in our justice-involved youth.

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