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A New Way To Look At Poverty In California

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Which California counties have the highest poverty rates? Well, that depends on how you measure.

A new analysis from the Public Policy Institute of California and the Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality takes into account cost of living and any resources available from social safety net programs — unlike the official U.S. Census poverty measurement.

And under this measurement, the worst poverty rates aren’t in rural or Central Valley counties like Imperial, Fresno or Tulare. They’re on the coast, in counties like Los Angeles, Santa Barbara and Orange.

Take, for example, the county with the lowest official poverty rate: San Mateo, at just over 6 percent. This alternative measurement suggests a more realistic estimate of San Mateo’s poverty rate would be more than 16 percent — 10 points higher. The trend is similar in other Bay Area counties like Marin and San Francisco.

On the other hand, the county with the worst official poverty rate, Tulare’s 25 percent, falls back down to 19 percent under this calculation — still high, but not the worst.

The county with the highest poverty rate under the alternative measurement is Los Angeles, at 23 percent. El Dorado has the lowest adjusted rate of just under 11 percent.