Report: OC’s Safety Net Programs Do Little to Cut Poverty

Social safety net programs cut just 5 percent of the overall poverty rate in Orange County, according to a December report by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC), ranking it at the bottom among California counties on that measure.

By comparison, the report, which calculates how much the countywide poverty rate would increase in the absence of state and federal anti-poverty programs, found such programs cut poverty rates by 6.6 percent in San Diego County; 9.3 percent in Los Angeles County; and 14.3 percent in the Central Valley and Sierra counties. The Bay Area joined Orange County at the bottom of the list with a cut of 5 percent.

Screen-Shot-2015-12-22-at-9.31.23-PM

Variations in poverty levels are influenced by the scale and scope of safety net programs, which are almost entirely funded by the state and federal governments but administered by individual counties, according to Caroline Danielson, a PPIC fellow who co-authored the report.

Danielson, who studies anti-poverty programs and local governance, said two other major factors — enrollment rates and eligibility — could also affect county poverty rates.

The report uses an adjusted poverty calculation formulated last year by PPIC and the Stanford Center of Poverty and Inequality, which accounts for cost of living and other family resources on top of federal poverty measures.

“In our measure, we recalculated the resources that get combined to say what you have, which includes tax credits and food stamps, and what resources you need to have to be above the main poverty line,” Danielson said.

According to the report’s adjusted calculations, a family of four in Orange County with an annual income at or below $33,000 is living in poverty.

“The official poverty threshold for that size family would be around $5,000 less per year, so that means some families in poverty might not be eligible for programs that have low income cutoffs,” Danielson said, referring to the federal threshold of $24,250 in annual income.

The report also notes one major cost for families that is not included in federal poverty calculations: housing.

Adjusted poverty rates are especially high in counties like Los Angeles (25.7 percent) and Orange (21.8 percent) where housing costs are high, compared to counties like Placer (13.3 percent) and Sacramento County (18.2 percent).

Contact Thy Vo at tvo@voiceofoc.org or follow her on Twitter @thyanhvo.