California continues to have – by far – the nation’s highest level of poverty under an alternative method devised by the Census Bureau that takes into account both broader measures of income and the cost of living.
Nearly a quarter of the state’s 38 million residents (8.9 million) live in poverty, a new Census Bureau report says, a level virtually unchanged since the agency first began reporting on the method’s effects.
Under the traditional method of gauging poverty, adopted a half-century ago, California’s rate is 16 percent (6.1 million residents), somewhat above the national rate of 14.9 percent but by no means the highest. That dubious honor goes to New Mexico at 21.5 percent.
But under the alternative method, California rises to the top at 23.4 percent while New Mexico drops to 16 percent and other states decline to as low as 8.7 percent in Iowa.
Not surprisingly, the new methodology has become political:
It’s now routinely cited in official reports and legislative documents, and Neel Kashkari, the Republican candidate for governor, has tried to make it an issue in his uphill challenge to Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown, even spending several days in Fresno posing as a homeless person to dramatize it.
The definition of poverty is an interesting methodological topic that certainly has social and political implications. I assume the Census Bureau argues the new definition is a better one since it accounts for more information and adjusts for regional variation. But, “better” could also mean one that either reduces or increases the official number which then can be used for different ends.