MostlyTrueStatement: “Do you know what we’re No. 1 at? We’re No. 1 in America in poverty. Twenty-four percent of Californians – you take the low income and the high cost of living – 24 percent of Californians today are living in poverty,” GOP gubernatorial candidate Neel Kashkari said at Voice of San Diego’s Politifest on Aug. 9.

Determination: Mostly True

Analysis: When Neel Kashkari joined us on the Politifest stage, he was eager to point out problems facing California and how he’d fix them if elected governor. At the top of his list: lack of quality education and not enough good jobs.

He took those concerns one step further, and said that when taken together, failing schools and a lack of jobs culminate in a title California shouldn’t be proud of: the poorest state in the nation, with 24 percent of Californians living in poverty.

So are nearly a quarter of Californians impoverished, and are we the worst in the country? The answers depend on the numbers you look at.

The U.S. Census Bureau has two yearly reports that determine state poverty percentages: the official measure and the supplemental measure.


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By the official measure, Kashkari would be wrong. California’s poverty rate is 16.5 percent, and the state ranks 14th worst in the country. But if you look at the supplemental measure, Kashkari has his facts straight: California has the highest poverty rate in the nation at 23.8 percent.

Let’s break down the differences between the two. One of the biggest is that the official poverty measure doesn’t take into account the different costs to live in each state, while the supplemental one does.

The official poverty measure holds the most authority. It has been determined roughly the same way since the 1960s. It focuses on what it costs to feed the average person a no-frills diet, multiplies that cost by three (under the now-outdated assumption that a third of low-income peoples’ cash is spent on food) and adjusts the number by family size and for inflation. If a family’s income falls below that threshold, they are considered poor.

The official poverty measure is used to determine eligibility for various government programs like food stamps and Medicaid, said Gordon Dahl, a professor of economics at UC San Diego.

But Dahl and other economists agree that the official poverty measure is too limited. Low-income families spend money on more than just food, and costs depend heavily on where they live. To account for additional spending and government assistance, in 2010 the Census Bureau began releasing a supplemental poverty measure.

That measure tallies up personal income and any non-cash government benefits, like food stamps and housing subsidies, that low-income individuals receive. But unlike the official measure, the supplemental one also takes into account necessary expenses beyond food. It adds in others like taxes, child care, transportation and housing costs. The supplemental measure provides a fuller picture of just how many people are impoverished, Dahl said.

Beyond the two government-issued poverty measures, there are lots of ways to determine who is poor. The Public Policy Institute of California, a nonpartisan think tank, recently examined the role of state safety net programs in keeping people from poverty, for instance.

Despite all these differences, Kashkari’s statement includes enough context to give him a positive fact check rating. He’s relying on a government-issued poverty measure, and one that economists believe is a better way to understand who is poor than the more official alternative. He also accurately described that he was relying on a poverty measure that included cost of living as a factor. The only important nuance here is that he wasn’t referring to the “official” measure of poverty, which puts California in a slightly better light. Kashkari gets a Mostly True.

If you disagree with our determination or analysis, please express your thoughts in the comments section of this blog post. Explain your reasoning.

    This article relates to: Cost of Living, Fact Check, News, Share, VOSD Events

    Written by Gwyneth Shoecraft

    Gwyneth is an intern for Voice of San Diego.

    24 comments
    Matt Finish
    Matt Finish subscriber

    While this post presents numbers, it misses the bigger question. What is the *source* of poverty?


    In some countries, no matter how intelligent, hardworking and responsible a person is, they will remain poor. I consider that to be true, inescapable poverty.


    On the other hand, you have countries with decent opportunities available, but certain members of the citizenry who consistently make terrible decisions. If a person is poor, and then continues to have children they can't afford, then that isn't poverty, it's bad decision making.


    A better metric, although nearly impossible to measure without doing several million in person interviews, is to find out *how* these people became poor.


    That would do a much better job in answering the question of whether we have true poverty, or just bad decision making. And we could tailor our approach to better reflect that.


    Our current approach of just handing out free stuff to the tune of billions of dollars per year simply isn't working because it only addresses the symptom, and not the disease.


    PS - Our numbers in CA are probably skewed downward because we share what is essentially an open border with Mexico, which has the type of poverty I listed above.

    Matt Finish
    Matt Finish subscriber

    @Chris Brewster  Thanks for that insightful comment Chris, it adds much to the discussion. Although I'm unsure what a country that is half the population of Los Angeles county has to do with the points I made.


    As an addendum, I realized I forgot to list poverty that arises due to medical accidents that render a person unable to work. Just thought I'd add that for the sake of completeness.

    Chris Brewster
    Chris Brewster subscribermember

    Mr. Finish,
    OK. Fair enough.
    You stated that, “In some countries, no matter how intelligent, hardworking and responsible a person is, they will remain poor. I consider that to be true, inescapable poverty.” You reference no specific countries, so it’s hard to engage in meaningful debate, but consider Denmark, where no one, to my knowledge, is in poverty because of the degree of the social safety net. It’s a decision of the populace that they would prefer to contribute enough of their collective earnings to ensure that no one starves.
    You state, “Although I'm unsure what a country [Denmark] that is half the population of Los Angeles county has to do with the points I made.” You did not specify a country or countries in your original post. I’m not sure what the size of the country has to do with how the citizenry approach the issue. In fact, I think there is none.
    You stated, “On the other hand, you have countries with decent opportunities available, but certain members of the citizenry who consistently make terrible decisions. If a person is poor, and then continues to have children they can't afford, then that isn't poverty, it's bad decision making.” I don’t actually understand the first sentence without the second sentence, so I can only respond thereto. Over the years, sex education, family planning services, birth control, and the availability of abortions have been consistently attacked by the Republican party and many conservatives. When you take away access to alternatives, people will sometimes have unprotected sex and childbearing will result.
    Ironically, the opposition to family planning (in broadest sense) is not balanced by those opposing it with a willingness to help those who have the child and try to responsibly raise the child. You can only blame the poor so much. As for families who consciously decide to have children absent the ability to afford them, I agree with your proposition that that is poor planning in some cases (in other cases people may lose jobs unexpectedly), but your statement that this “isn’t poverty” defies the definition of poverty. Poverty is generally defined as having little or no money, goods, or means of support. For Federal assistance purposes, it is defined based on financial benchmarks. Because a poor person may have made a bad decision or decisions doesn’t prevent them from being poor or in poverty.
    You stated that, “A better metric, although nearly impossible to measure without doing several million in person interviews, is to find out *how* these people became poor. That would do a much better job in answering the question of whether we have true poverty, or just bad decision making. And we could tailor our approach to better reflect that.” Do you really believe that every person in poverty is there due to bad decision making? To me that is an astounding concept. I would suggest that an easier approach is to look at countries where poverty is rare or nonexistent and figure out how they do it.
    You stated that, “Our current approach of just handing out free stuff to the tune of billions of dollars per year simply isn't working because it only addresses the symptom, and not the disease.” I agree to a degree. We need to provide all adults with access to good quality jobs that pay a wage above the poverty line. Meanwhile, locally people are fighting a minimum wage that probably isn’t enough to even accomplish that.
    Finally, you stated that, “Our numbers in CA are probably skewed downward because we share what is essentially an open border with Mexico, which has the type of poverty I listed above.” Imagine how many people south of the border would love the reality you imagine?
    Bottom line here is that I think you made a litany of broad statements that made meaningful debate difficult. I think complaining about the parsimonious nature of my original reply should be considered in context of the generality of your post.

    Matt Finish
    Matt Finish subscriber

    @Chris Brewster 

    Chris, you went from parsimonious to a long winded wall of text spanning multiple subjects. Neither is helpful, and I can’t tell if you’re trolling or if you’re serious. If it’s the latter, I’d advise working on sticking to one subject. I purposely stuck to a specific point (where does poverty come from and how to measure it) for that reason. Diatribes like yours aren’t well suited for this medium. Each of us responding back and forth to many different points online doesn’t work. Perhaps in person, but not here.

    Further, it was filled with needless pedantry (I don’t list a specific poor country!), partisan hackery (but, Republicans!), outright falsehoods (Denmark doesn’t have poor people!) , and a lack of understanding how the modern world works (scale doesn’t matter!). It has all the makings of the typical rambling post of a college age Redditor. Full of zeal, well meaning, but lacking in focus and life experience.

    I’ll leave you with this gem regarding jobs: Of course people need well-paying jobs, but we cannot just conjure them into existence at will. The continual talk of “creating jobs” misleads people on the subject. If we could actually create them at will, the President could just wave his pen and have 100% employment forever. The reality is much more nuanced than that and I wish people would stop deluding themselves that it wasn’t.

    Chris Brewster
    Chris Brewster subscribermember

    Mr. Finish: Is your best response to be derisive toward me? I appreciate that you believe that my post covered too many subjects. You'll kindly note however, that each paragraph responds to a quote from your original post. So if the subject matter is broad, it began with your post. I stand my post with an exception noted below.

    In my experience posting here, people challenge my opinions, which is fine and part of discussion/debate. I try to respond with factual evidence of which I am aware, rather than saying they lack an understanding of how the modern world works (i.e. they are ignorant), as you have done, which smacks to me of arrogance.

    I will note an error in my post. I stated that in Denmark no one, to my knowledge, is in poverty. (I did not state, as you have asserted, that no one is poor, although that is a similar concept I suppose.) Here's a comparison of Denmark to the US in the poverty metric:

    http://www.epi.org/publication/ib339-us-poverty-higher-safety-net-weaker/

    You'll note that Denmark has the lowest poverty rate among selected OECD countries when compared to the US. My suggestion from the original post to the present is this: The number of people a country allows to live in poverty is based in large part on a choice of the populace who control the country's economy of what is acceptable. One of your original questions had to do with the sources of poverty. A major element, in my view, is a choice of those in power and social acceptability of allowing people to be in poverty. Perhaps one of the reasons that Denmark is regularly referenced as the happiest country on the planet is that it does not leave its less wealthy people in distress.

    http://www.happinessresearchinstitute.com/danish-happiness-explained/4578972751

    Chris Glenn
    Chris Glenn subscriber

    Sorry to have missed Mr. Kashkari's comments at Politifest.  Should we take away from your report that he desires to represent those living in poverty across the State?  Has he spent time getting to know this constituency and discussed ways of serving them as Governor?  Have you a more complete report of his platform, or know where we may discover it?

    Derek Hofmann
    Derek Hofmann subscribermember

    It's ironic how we use the zoning code to prevent the market from building affordable housing, then we wonder why there are people here living in poverty.

    Ken Platt
    Ken Platt subscriber

    No worries, this whole poverty issue is going to go away once the $10 minimum wage goes into effect, right?

    Chris Brewster
    Chris Brewster subscribermember

    Mr. Platt: If the minimum wage were adjusted such that persons working a 40 hour week at that wage earned a wage above the poverty line, as I have suggested in a prior opinion piece here, then by definition people with 40 hour minimum wage jobs would no longer be in poverty.

    Chris Brewster
    Chris Brewster subscribermember

    One of the reasons for this is that the federal minimum wage is the same in all states, including those where it is cheapest to live (e.g. Kentucky, Mississippi, etc.) Were the minimum wage adjusted for cost of living, the story would likely be different. Mr. Kashkari is on record opposing an increase to California's minimum wage, although Mitt Romney is on record supporting it. Mr. Kaskari's solution is "to create jobs." Unfortunately, people working the federal minimum wage for a 40 hour week don't earn enough in much of the state to be above the poverty line. Creating jobs that pay poverty wages is not a solution to the poverty problem.

    Chris Brewster
    Chris Brewster subscribermember

    Ms. Tegarden: There will always be people on the low end of the wage scale. The question is what we pay them. If you want to prevent poverty, paying wages that leave people in poverty is not the ideal solution in my view.

    Matty Azure
    Matty Azure subscriber

    "The more you make the more you spend and then you end up in debt again."

    Signed,

    Disposable Income Disposed

    Allen Carter
    Allen Carter subscriber

    What a load of bilge. And just what would he recommend for getting people out of poverty? Tax cuts for the rich.

    Doug Sommer
    Doug Sommer subscriber

    @Allen Carter Not all problems can be solved by government intervention in the private sector.


    Hanspiel
    Hanspiel subscriber

    @Doug Sommer @Allen Carter No, but most of the current ones can. There is an inherent greed in the private sector, which is perfectly acceptable as long as it's controlled. The recent increase in poverty related issues comes primarily from a removal of the controls that were put in place to reduce the negative effects of greed while maintaining the positive effects. The leading cause of this reduction in controls is a lack of trust in the government which has occured as corruption has increased in politics. Ironically, that corruption increase was partially due to the removal of some of the controls. This has led to the less than ideal situation of the corrupt creating the laws that affect the level of corruption. Until we break this cycle and reinstate the controls designed to prevent private sector policies that harm the people, we will continue to have issues.

    Bill Bradshaw
    Bill Bradshaw subscribermember

    @Hanspiel @Doug Sommer @Allen Carter 

    Dear “Hanspiel”,
     
    Greed is inherent in human beings, not a creature of the dreaded “private sector”.  Politicians love to exercise power over the private sector, and it’s funny how many of them go in with rather modest means and become quite wealthy, using their positions and former positions to generate huge incomes.  Lyndon Johnson and Bill Clinton are a couple that come to mind.  The number of multi-millionaires in the current senate and house are current examples.  No greed in the public sector, huh?  

    What is all this blather about “controls” and the negative effect on the economy when they are relaxed?  Nixon installed wage and price controls and they were a disaster.  The only thing I can comprehend from your diatribe is the presence of a lack of trust in government.  That’s surely real, and the causes are legion, but I think largely a result of the constant overreach of lawmakers and bureaucrats into every facet of our lives.

    There’s an interesting op-ed piece in the U-T today about former city council “president” Ben Hueso’s latest reach, a bill to dictate that the state’s three utilities buy 500 megawatts of geothermal energy annually from the Imperial Valley by 2020.  One small problem with this is that geothermal currently costs about 40% more than other renewable sources but, shucks, it’s only money and we can print more, right?

    Hanspiel
    Hanspiel subscriber

    Humans are in the private sector. I never claimed it was a creation of that sector, only that it is part of the private sector. And the controls I'm referring to are the ones that used to limit corporate funding of politicians, and limit shady dealings. You seem to have ignored the fact that I said greed was beneficial as long as it's controlled. Like anything else, it has both positive effects, like encouraging competition, and negative effects, like encouraging underpaying employees or outsourcing jobs. Reducing the negative effects while protecting the benefits is exactly what government is supposed to do. Giving an incentive for bringing jobs to the U.S. Removing the current law that makes keeping money overseas more profitable than bringing it to the US economy. These are the things that need to be looked at.

    Matt Finish
    Matt Finish subscriber

    @Hanspiel @Doug Sommer @Allen Carter  "No, but most of the current ones can. "


    Completely wrong. Our current problems are *caused* by government, whose greed for the hard earned money of its subjects is insatiable. It then spends this money, along with additional newly created money, on things that benefit political allies and buys votes. This spending causes gross distortions in the market place as the excessive concentration of money flows into key areas. Some of the most striking examples are education, healthcare, and formerly housing. All of these have risen at a cost far exceeding official inflation numbers. As the prices rise, people clamor for more public assistance with them, further exacerbating the problem. The dupes are taken along for a ride as they fall for the same trick of being bribed with their own money over, and over, and over again. This is the art of politics.

    Hanspiel
    Hanspiel subscriber

    Read the entirety of my comment before putting your foot in your mouth please. What you just described is not politics, it is corruption, which I addressed in my statement. Also, taxes are currently very low compared to say the 40s through the 70s. Laws were put in place that allow the private sector to essentially buy politicians votes to bring greater profits to their company or industry. There used to be laws that better separated the private and public sectors. As those were relaxed more and more money flowed from corporations to politicians through lobbyists increasing the level of corruption while simultaneously making it even easier to increase it further. The assumption that politics is automatically corrupt is one of many assumptions that have allowed it to get as bad as it is.

    Mark Giffin
    Mark Giffin subscribermember

    @Hanspiel 

    Riley. Our problems with unfunded government liabilities are from greed and they certainly didn't come from the private sector.They are from the public sector and came from union influence on politicians 

    Doesn't get more corrupt than labor in bed with management in the so called collective bargaining.

    Tammy Tran
    Tammy Tran subscriber

    It also means that California, based on population of 38 million (if this number is correct) in 2014, is home to almost 29 million people who are either not poor or rich.

    Hanspiel
    Hanspiel subscriber

    Yes, and India has over 700 million people who aren't poor. Does that lessen the fact that they have over 300 million who are poor? This is why percentages are used. Because if I just said "9 million poor people live in California" it would not show the whole picture, just like your statement doesn't approach the whole picture, and is, essentially, a meaningless statement.