Census data: California's poverty rate increases, income levels fall

Erika Aguilar/KPCC

Dolores Taylor a church member of the House of Praise, fills plastics bags with vegetables and packaged food for people who come in Thursday afternoons for the church's food bank distribution.

About 15 people form a line in the alley behind the House of Praise church off Slauson Avenue in South Los Angeles. Volunteers are little late opening up the food pantry but people don’t mind waiting. Maybe they don’t have much of a choice.

Velma McGee is a licensed childcare provider who runs her own daycare center. But state cuts to subsidized childcare funding have stymied her business, she says.

McGee is one of the millions of Californians who saw their annual incomes decline last year. New federal Census numbers released Thursday show a four percent drop last year in California median income levels.

McGee still provides care to one of kids in her center as a courtesy to the parents, but Mc Gee says they can only pay about a $100 a month for the service.

“I don’t have any kids now. That’s why I’m standing in this line right now. Because there ain’t no money left over to buy no food after I pay my house note.”

McGee says her mortgage payment is $3,600 a month. Four years ago she entered into a bad home loan with a high interest rate and ballooning payments. Now she’s trying to stave off foreclosure just long enough for parents to earn enough and afford daycare again.

The U.S. Census data paint a picture of the country’s slow economic growth. For example, 13.6 percent of American adults ages 25 to 34 lived with their parents in 2011. That’s a drop from 2010 when 14.2 percent of them still lived with Mom and Dad. More young adults are also taking a chance on jobs and relocating from home to home, city to city, or even across state.

When KPCC last spoke to Kai Schmoll of Los Angeles two years ago, he and his partner were facing foreclosure and neither of them had a job. After they put up the house on a federal short sale program, Schmoll and his partner moved from L.A. in August last year to Asheville, North Carolina where they live in a home his family owns saving them a lot of money on rent.

“Financially we’re still not any where close to where we were. We’ll never be where we were,” he says. “But we’re so much happier doing what we want. The pressure is off and not owning the house anymore is such a huge relief.”

Schmoll, who started his own event service staffing business, says he feels like things are starting turnaround, not just for him but also for the country. It’s an optimistic outlook Ophelia McNair of Mid-City shares.

“I think it’s getting there gradually," she says. "It’s going to take some time.”

McNair says she feels her economic situation has improved. Two years ago, her 47-year old son, a professional welder, moved in with her.

“For the last years he was out of work, period. He hadn’t worked,” McNair says. But 2012 has been more generous to them, she said. Her son has been able to land a few contract jobs.

Californians suffered the most at the beginning of the recession in 2007 and although there has been some recovery, the loss continued into last year when income levels fell and the state’s poverty rate increased.

California’s poverty rate slightly increased last year to 16.6 percent from 15.8 percent in 2010 and 12.6 percent in 2007.

If people in the Southland are aching from the lingering economic pain, it’s torturing people in Fresno. There, one in four people live at or below the poverty line. It’s the nation’s second-poorest metro area after McAllen, Texas.

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