Stanford Center on Poverty & Inequality
The purpose of this report is to describe the current state of poverty in California, to discuss concrete steps that could be taken to reduce poverty in California, and to present the best available evidence on the likely effects of those steps. We take on an important but infrequently-posed question: If California were to seriously commit to reducing poverty, how might that commitment best be realized?
This is of course a hypothetical question, as there is no evidence that California is poised to make such a serious commitment, nor have many other states gone much beyond the usual lip service proclamations. It is nonetheless especially striking that California, the highest-poverty state in the country, has not rushed in to rectify the matter.1
There are many reasons for this seeming complacency, but an especially important one is that most people think that poverty is intractable and that viable solutions to it simply don’t exist. When Californians know what needs to be done, they tend to go forward and get it done. When, for example, the state’s roads are in disrepair, there are rarely paralyzing debates about exactly how to go about fixing them; and instead we proceed with the needed repairs as soon as the funds to do so are appropriated. The same type of sure and certain prescription might appear to be unavailable when it comes to fixing poverty. It is hard not to be overwhelmed by the cacaphony of voices yielding a thick stream of narrow-gauge interventions, new evaluations, and piecemeal proposals.2
Grusky, David, Marion Coddou, Erin Cumberworth, Jonathan Fisher, Jared Furuta, Jasmine Hill, Sara Kimberlin, Molly King, Yana Kucheva, Ryan Leupp, Marybeth Mattingly, Natassia Rodriguez, Charles Varner, Rachel Wright. 2015. “Why is there so much Poverty in California? The Causes of California’s Sky-High Poverty and the Evidence Behind the Equal Opportunity Plan for Reducing It.” • Research formed foundation for California AB 1520: Lifting Children and Families Out of Poverty Task Force Act