California’s Progressive High Cost of Living

Capital Music Man color
Photographer: Steven Styles/ Belator Media

California is widely-considered to be a “deep blue” state, a veritable bastion of liberal and progressive thinking, with corresponding legislation and the federal funding to back it up.

Despite a plethora of publicly-funded programs–California is one of the most expensive states to live in … especially for those in the lowest income-brackets.

According to 2015 US Census data, 15% of Californians live below the poverty line… but, according to the California Poverty Measure (CPM), that number is closer to 21%.

Even more disconcerting: according to a 2015 study by the United Way SCA, the US Census figures don’t even begin to cover the daily cost of living here in California; the aforementioned study estimates that 1/3 of California households cannot cover basic monthly costs.

One in three California households (31%) do not have sufficient income to meet their basic costs of living. This is nearly three times the number officially considered poor according to the Federal Poverty Level. Source: United Way SCA 2015 Study

The high cost of living in California is most notably reflected in the amount of money folks spend on food per month:

7-15-2016 N. Natomas Certified Farmer's Market (36 of 48)
Photographer: Steven Styles/ Belator Media

a typical household of 2 adults & 2 children spend $879 a month on average, according to MIT’s Living Wage Calculator for California ; the same calculator puts the necessary annual income (before taxes) for the same family at $57,986. According to the Department of Numbers, an ACS survey shows the median per capita income for California was $31,587 in 2015.

Not surprisingly, California receives the highest dollar amount of federal funds of any US state; in FFY 2012-13 (the most recent publicly-available stats I could find) the state received $343 billion from the US government.

A little over 2.2 million households utilize 2 housing assistance programs to pay their monthly rent and approximately 4.2 million Californians receive supplemental nutrition benefits (Food Stamps). Putting that in perspective locally, according to an article by the Sac Bee The Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency currently receives money enough to offer housing vouchers to over 12,000 households. According to a fact-sheet by 115,738 Californians were homeless in 2014.

Money generation, however, doesn’t appear to be an issue in The Golden State.

California is widely-regarded as the 6th largest economy in the world, with a mind-blowing $2.44 trillion dollars GDP annually, according to The Bureau of Economic Analysis’s report on state growth. And yet as of December 2016 EDD reports that only 18,165,400 California residents are currently employed, in a state of just under 40 million people.

Given the trillions of dollars being generated by the state’s economy, it is no small question to ask how California’s monies–both state & federal–are being spent.

gov budget 2017-2018 chart 3

Included in Governor Brown’s 2017 Budget was the above pie chart. According to the chart, Education–both elementary & higher–gets 54.5% of all state spending. With that kind of money, the average taxpayer would expect California to be on the Top Ten List regarding student performance…. but, no:

test scores California 2016

According to the above image, from a 2016 poll of test scores, and from Wallet Hub’s 2016 findings, California’s in the bottom 10 worst school systems in the nation.

Noble intentions aside, for many taxpayers California’s high cost of living has yet to justify its expense.

Article by L. R. Styles. Photographer: Steven Styles/ Belator Media