Californians in poverty fell by 1.6 million in pandemic era’s first 2 years – Daily News

”Survey says” looks at various rankings and scorecards judging geographic locations while noting these grades are best seen as a mix of artful interpretation and data.

Buzz: The number of impoverished Californians fell by 1.6 million in the coronavirus era’s first two years.

Source: My trusty spreadsheet reviewed the Census Bureau’s Supplemental Poverty Report for the three years ended in 2021 vs. pre-coronavirus 2017-2019 for the 50 states and the District of Columbia. The report offers an expanded tally of Americans living in deep financial stress, based on incomes, government assistance programs and household expenses including local cost of living variances.


Since it’s the season for celebrations, we’ll highlight the good economic news: There was far less poverty in 2020 and 2021.

The improvement was by no means just in California. The rest of the nation saw a 7.6 million drop in those living in poverty. The No. 2 dip was found in Texas at 868,000, followed by Florida at 702,000, Illinois at 456,000 and New York at 424,000.

Yes, tons of pandemic-related federal and state aid to all Americans – much of it targeting lower-income households – was key.


The big drops came in big states with big poverty challenges. So, we’ll also tip our caps to where poverty fell at the fastest rate.

California’s 23% percentage drop only ranked 32nd among the states. Best was Maine, off 43%, then Oregon, down 36%, New Jersey and South Dakota, down 33%, and New Hampshire, down 32%.

Declining poverty wasn’t just a pandemic occurrence. Improvements were also found in 2019, comparing that year’s data to 2009 – in the middle of the Great Recession and the first year for this new poverty count.

California poverty was down by 1 million in this decade. Michigan’s dropped by 431,000, Ohio was down 324,000, Illinois was down 313,000, and Arizona was down 221,000.

California’s 15% drop in poverty between 2009 and 2019 ranked just 22nd-best. The biggest drop was found in Rhode Island at 68%, then Michigan at 45%, Montana at 44%, Kansas at 40% and Minnesota at 38%.


Platitudes and percentage-point gains only go so far. Poverty is still a significant problem, especially in California.

The state, even after its noteworthy improvements, ranked No. 1 in 2019-21 with 5.2 million people living in deep financial stress. Next was Texas at 3 million, Florida at 2. 6 million, New York at 2.4 million Georgia at 1.1 million. All told, 31.4 million Americans lived in poverty on average in 2021-2019.

That translates to 13.2% of Californians in poverty, the nation’s No. 2 rate behind only D.C.’s 14.6%. Next was New York at 12.1%, then Florida and Mississippi at 11.9%. The nation’s rate for 2019-21 was 9.6%.

Bottom line

Just like holiday gift-giving and other seasonal indulgences, the bills eventually come due for the nation’s short-run poverty reduction efforts.

The bulk of the pandemic era’s stimulus efforts ended in 2021. But a strong job market offers numerous open positions with surging salaries, especially in industries that typically pay poorly.

And one painful side effect of a largely strong 2022 economy – 40-year high inflation – is a harsh blow to many lower-income households.

So poverty likely increased in 2022. And there’s plenty of time to debate – on another day – what long-term solutions might look like.

In the holiday spirit, let’s simply be joyful for the brightened financial fortunes of some of the less fortunate in recent years.

Jonathan Lansner is the business columnist for the Southern California News Group. He can be reached at

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