On her radio show, Fox News contributor Laura Ingraham blamed immigrants, specifically Latino and Asian immigrants, for California's high alternative poverty rate, claiming that passing immigration reform would translate into more poor people nationwide. In fact, California's high cost of living and narrowed access to anti-poverty benefits are the real reasons behind the state's high alternative poverty rate.
On November 6, the Census Bureau released a report showing that under an alternative method of measuring poverty -- one that takes into account the value of anti-poverty programs and living expenses such as rent and mortgage payments, work-related transportation costs, and child and health care spending -- California's poverty rate jumps to 23.8 percent from the official government figure of 16.5 percent.
Discussing the findings on her radio show, Ingraham stated that California is where "most newly amnestied people initially settled after the '86 amnesty" and that "it has the largest percentage of Latino voters in the United States and Latino residents, new immigrants, also Asian residents." She added: "I say we keep going down this road of immigration, quote, reform and we can all look forward to having a poverty rate as high as -- at least under this alternative measure, which looks like a better measure of poverty."
In fact, according to experts, the alternative poverty rate in California "is really driven by the cost of housing."
As the San Jose Mercury News reported:
The alternative yardstick, known as the supplemental poverty measure, found nearly 2.8 million more people are struggling across the country than the traditional benchmark shows.
That makes a big difference in California, where the broader measure counts more than 8.9 million people living in poverty between 2010 and 2012 -- a report released Wednesday by the U.S. Census Bureau shows -- far higher than the 6.2 million living in poverty tallied the official way.
"Anyone who has moved to California from somewhere else knows the dramatic increase of the cost of living," said Ann Stevens, director for the Center for Poverty Research at UC Davis. "It's not more surprising that California looks more impoverished. It is really driven by the cost of housing. California is a very expensive place to live."
Using the alternative measure, California had the highest poverty in the country between 2010 and 2012 -- 23.8 percent -- followed by the District of Columbia and Nevada. The official measure ranked Louisiana, Mississippi and New Mexico at the top during that period.
In rural parts of North Dakota, Kentucky and West Virginia, the poverty level is around $18,000 for a family of four without a mortgage. In the San Jose, San Francisco and Oakland metropolitan areas, the Census Bureau says, it's $35,500 for a family of four with a mortgage.
That $35,500 "may look pretty good to someone in a rural area," Stevens said. "I don't think too many people in San Francisco would think that."
Indeed, the Census Bureau further explained: "Supplemental poverty rates differed by region primarily because the supplemental poverty rate has thresholds that vary geographically. The rates were higher than official rates for the Northeast and West, lower in the Midwest and not statistically different from the official measure in the South. These results reflect differences in housing costs, which are not captured by the official poverty measure."
While the national alternative poverty rate among Hispanics is highest at 27.8 percent, the rate for African-Americans closely follows at 25.8 percent. The alternative national rate for Asian-Americans is 16.7 percent.
In a study that used similar calculations to the Census' alternative poverty rate, the Public Policy Institute of California found that while Latinos in the state have a high poverty rate, the rate is significantly higher for the same group outside of California:
Latinos (23.6%) and African Americans (24.2%) have much higher poverty rates than Asians (12.6%) and whites (9.8%) in California. The statewide poverty rate among Latinos living in families with a foreign-born head of household is 26.9%; for the same group outside of California, it is significantly higher (30.1%). Poverty rates increased for all racial and ethnic groups in California between 2010 and 2011.
In an article looking at increasing poverty in Silicon Valley, the Associated Press explained that the causes for the city's growing poor "are complex, but largely come down to one thing: a very high cost of living." The AP continued:
The median home price is $550,000, and rents average just under $2,000 a month for a two-bedroom apartment in this region that is home to many of the nation's wealthiest companies including Facebook, Apple Inc., Hewlett-Packard Co. and Google. For a family of four, just covering basic needs like rent, food, childcare and transportation comes to almost $90,000 a year, according to the nonprofit Insight Center for Community Economic Development.
"The fact is that we have an economy now that's working well only for those at the very top," said Lawrence Mishel at the Economic Policy Institute in Washington, D.C. "Unless we adopt a new approach to economic policy, we're going to continue going down this path, which means growth that does not really benefit the great majority of people in this country."