California—not Mississippi, New Mexico, or West Virginia—has the highest poverty rate in the United States. According to the Census Bureau’s Supplemental Poverty Measure—which accounts for the cost of housing, food, utilities, and clothing, and which includes noncash government assistance as a form of income—nearly one out of four Californians is poor. Given robust job growth in the state and the prosperity generated by several industries, especially the supercharged tech sector, the question arises as to why California has so many poor people, especially when the state’s per-capita GDP increased roughly twice as much as the U.S. average over the five years ending in 2016 (12.5 percent, compared with 6.27 percent).
It’s not as if California policymakers have neglected to wage war on poverty. Sacramento and local governments have spent massive amounts in the cause, for decades now. Myriad state and municipal benefit programs overlap with one another; in some cases, individuals with incomes 200 percent above the poverty line receive benefits, according to the California Policy Center. California state and local governments spent nearly $958 billion from 1992 through 2015 on public welfare programs, including cash-assistance payments, vendor payments, and “other public welfare,” according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Unfortunately, California, with 12 percent of the American population, is home today to roughly one in three of the nation’s welfare recipients. The generous spending, then, has not only failed to decrease poverty; it actually seems to have made it worse.