By Adeney Zo
UCLA Luskin Student Writer
Recent Public Policy graduate Matt Levin and his research co-author Sarah Bohn visited the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs last week to present data and conclusions from the 2011 California Poverty Measure.
The California Poverty Measure (conducted by the Public Policy Institute of California, where Levin and Bohn are researchers) was created to include both administrative data and supplemental poverty measures such as the impact of safety-net programs, out-of-pocket medical expenses and living costs. The measure subtracts an individual’s estimated net expenses from available resources in order to determine whether she or he lies above or below the official poverty threshold. The federal government relies on the Census Bureau to create official poverty data, but these statistics do not account for factors such as geographical variation and in-kind benefits.
The measure’s overall results show that 22 percent of Californians are living in poverty, although that poverty is not necessarily very deep. Still, this number is 2.2 million people more than the official poverty estimate for California. Additionally, every 1 in 4 children are considered to be living in poverty, a significant statistic considering the high number of children in California.
Findings also show that regions not often considered in poverty, such as certain coastal areas and parts of Northern and Central California, in actuality have the highest poverty rates in the state.
The high poverty rate in California can be partially attributed a number of factors, most notably the high cost of living (70 percent of Californians live in what can be considered a high-cost area), but also low levels of participation in need-based programs. These safety net programs can cut the poverty rate sharply if utilized, the researchers said.
“Los Angeles in particular is not doing as good job as it could in enrolling people in SNAP,” or the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Levin, a 2012 MPP alum, said in his remarks. “If this is improved we hope to see a decrease in L.A.’s poverty rate.”
Levin and Bohn’s research methodology involved random assignment studies of families eligible for food stamps and other need-based programs within the same county and with approximately the same household size. The random assignments allowed for them to account for the 34 percent discrepancy between official survey data and the actual amount of SNAP money distributed.
“The story of poverty across California is somewhat flipped from official rates.,” Bohn said. “Now we want to take the next step beyond looking at this data and do something to increase utilization of the program.”