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San Diego Poverty Rate Drops Slightly, Disparities Remain

September 19, 2017 1:14 p.m.

San Diego Poverty Rate Drops Slightly, Disparities Remain

Kyra Greene , executive director, Center on Policy Initiatives

Related Story: San Diego Poverty Rate Drops Slightly, Disparities Remain


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

The latest census figures on poverty in San Diego and across the state showed improvement makes with racial disparities and one startling statistic. Using the numbers that reflect the true cost of living in California, our state has the highest rate of poverty in the nation. One in five Californians live alone the poverty line. Overall County my in San Diego under the official poverty measure poverty rates have dropped but they remain -- there remain big differences between what poverty rates and those of black and Latino families.

Joining me is Kyra Greene -- welcome to the program.

Thank you for having me.

The U.S. Census figures show that the poverty rate in San Diego dropped slightly from 15%-13% last year. So did the poverty rate for the county as a whole. What do you think these figures tell us about how working families are faring in San Diego? New it tells us we are seeing improvement for the lowest income families but we should be careful and cautiously optimistic. Other thing we know from these data is that most of the recovery that we see in the economy from the recession -- most of the growth is going to the top 20% of households -- the wealthiest 20%. Things are getting slightly better for people at the lowest levels of income. Substantially better for people at the highest levels of income.

These figures are based on the peppered -- federal poverty guidelines. What is the federal poverty level?

The federal poverty level differs by household size. To give you a rough sense of what the number is, for a family -- a single person -- the poverty line was 12,000 dollars. For a family of four -- it's $23,349

It's far too little to survive in San Diego.

Do we know if the higher minimum wages a factor is decreasing the poverty rate for the lower income earners?

There is reason to believe that some impact of the increase in minimum wage is driving this because those will be the households most likely to be impacted by the increase. And we know that animal wage increase doesn't impact directly people making minimum wage but it puts some pressure on increasing wages for low-wage workers in general. Is reason to believe not only within the city but regionally is having some impact.

There are disparities based on race. Disparities that exist between whites and Latino and black poverty rates. Tells about that.

In general poverty rates for black and Latino households tend to hover around twice the rate as for white households. We know that the changes for household income are not even every year. For instance, in 2016 the poverty rate increased from 2015 for black households. It decreased for Latino households. We continue to see my disparities and we are deeply disturbed because when families live in poverty not only impact the families today but it leaves an imprint on children and it affects them throughout their life.

I also want to go back to something you said about the rise in income levels not exactly covering all rates of income. It seems that overall San Diego's income levels have recovered but when you look at that more closely the people earning the highest salaries have seen their incomes rise significantly. That's not true for the lowest income earners. Tell us more about that.

We are seeing is that for the top 20% -- the wealthiest 20% of households and more extreme for the top 5% -- we are seeing substantial increases in family income. Then, for households below that we are seeing modest increases for the lowest 20% of households and we are seeing decrease in the share of income going to people between those measures. So, we know that a lot of low income and middle income households are not seeing any improvement. In fact, they are losing ground in the overall pie.

Statewide when you factor in the cost of living the census data tells us that California actually has the lowest -- largest share of people living in poverty of any state in the country. That is quite a statistic. How is this statistic calculated?

This takes into account the cost of living for the region and for San Diego and the challenges are around the high cost of housing and transportation. This tends to drive families into greater property. We have another set of numbers. We can look at twice the poverty rate -- 200% -- how many households in the county fall into this category? We see in 30% of San Diego County residents' households are below the 22% of the federal poverty level. They are still living in substantial economic hardship because to the local for them to meet the cost of rent and transportation and as a result to feed their families and take care of their basic needs. This number is more disturbing when you look at households with children residing. Almost 40% of households in San Diego County live in economic hardship.

Given the recent passage of legislation -- it past in Sacramento and an increasing affordable housing. To expect the policies to make much of an impact on the kind of poverty rates you are talking about now? Factoring in the cost of living in the high cost of housing?

Any efforts to increase the stock of affordable housing should be welcomed and celebrated. The reality is, the size of the problem is so great and with the legislation we've seen we are unlikely to see substantial dents in this economic hardship or just a poverty rates.

I was speaking with Kyra Greene, the executive director on the Center for policy initiatives. Thank you.