State poverty rate rises; Peninsula still the lowest

Getty Images file photoSafe at the bottom: California’s poverty count increased from 4.3 million to 5.8 million between 2000 and 2010

Getty Images file photoSafe at the bottom: California’s poverty count increased from 4.3 million to 5.8 million between 2000 and 2010

California’s population increased by 10 percent between 2000 and 2010 but the number of Californians living in poverty grew more than three times as fast, a new U.S. Census Bureau report reveals.

The data are found in a massive compilation of poverty statistics broken down by state, county and school district. And if the Census Bureau adopts a proposed new method gauging poverty, which takes into account regional and local costs of living and other factors, the state’s poverty rate may climb even higher.

In 2000, 4.3 million Californians were living in poverty but by 2010, the number had increased to 5.8 million, a 34.3 percent jump that reflected the serious recession that has gripped the state in recent years. The state’s overall rate climbed from 12.7 percent in 2000 to 15.8 percent in 2010.

Virtually every region of the state was affected, from the most affluent counties in the Bay Area to the poorest in interior agricultural areas.

San Mateo County had the state’s lowest poverty rate in 2000 at 5.1 percent and was still lowest in 2010, but had seen a rise to 7 percent. Imperial County, in the state’s southeastern corner, had the highest poverty rate in 2000 at 24.7 percent, nearly twice the state rate, but by 2010 had ceded that dubious title to Fresno’s 26.8 percent.

Even more dramatic contrasts in poverty rates are evident in the state’s school districts, a separate Census Bureau compilation reveals.

The bureau reported numbers of school children in poverty-stricken families for each school district, but did not calculate poverty rates. They can be extrapolated, however, from the data.

In Los Angeles Unified, by far the state’s largest school district, for instance, 211,407 of the district’s 773,749 school-age children are in poverty-stricken families for a 27.3 percent rate. At the other end of the size scale, Maple Creek Elementary in Humboldt County has just six kids and lists one in poverty.

The very lowest rates of school district poverty are found in the state’s most affluent communities, such as San Mateo County’s Hillsborough Unified at just 3.9 percent. Beverly Hills Unified, however, has a 14.1 percent poverty rate, nearly as high as the state as a whole. Not surprisingly, given the county rankings, one of the state’s highest rates of school district poverty is found in Fresno Unified at 44 percent. But in Clovis Unified, on Fresno’s affluent northeastern flank, it’s scarcely a third as much, 15.5 percent.

One of the more interesting contrasts is found in two small school districts which are next door to one another in the Census Bureau’s alphabetical listing, but about 160 miles apart on the map, Marin County’s Reed Union and Tehama County’s Reed’s Creek. The former has a poverty rate of 6.4 percent while the latter’s is 43.3 percent.

Dan Walters’ Sacramento Bee columns on state politics are syndicated by the Scripps Howard News Service.

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