Business & Economy

Los Angeles still has more people in poverty than any big city in America, Census says

A homeless man pushes his cart of belongings along a street in Los Angeles, California on February 9, 2016.
A homeless man pushes his cart of belongings along a street in Los Angeles, California on February 9, 2016.
FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images

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Nearly 16 percent of residents in the greater Los Angeles metropolitan area were in poverty last year, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey released Thursday.

The new Census figures show that poverty has diminished slightly over last year, but Los Angeles still ranks in the top tier of America's poorest major cities. The only metro areas that have a higher percentage of people living in poverty are Detroit, Phoenix, Miami and Riverside. 

For 2015, the U.S. government considered a family of four to be in poverty if it's income was less than $24,250. A single person would have to make less than $11,770.

The U.S. poverty rate does not take into account the cost of living, which varies by city. A recent report from New York University's Furman Center found that the median rent in L.A. is more than $1300 per month, making L.A. the third most expensive rental market out of 11 major U.S. cities. So, with high housing costs to bear, L.A.'s poorer residents are even worse off than the Census numbers suggest. 

The Census also released national poverty statistics this week. It shows that in 2015, 14.7 percent of U.S. residents are living below the poverty level, a modest decline from 15.5 percent a year earlier. The numbers in California are similar. Just over 15 percent of the state's residents were in poverty in 2015, a decline of just over a percentage from the year, and slightly higher than the national rate.

"I think we're just too rich a state for there to be so many people struggling to have a roof over their head or put food on the table," said Alissa Anderson, senior policy analyst at the California Budget & Policy Center. "I think the figures are especially troubling because our economy has been growing for several years now."

People frequently misunderstand what it means to be in poverty, according to Anderson.

"Most families in poverty are working but they're just not earning enough," she said.

Anderson said California's move towards a $15 minimum wage will certainly help, but that it is only a start.

The Census also released household income statistics, which show that in L.A., incomes increased 3.3 percent from 2014 to 2016 to $62,544 a year. However, other American cities showed much bigger income gains, including Atlanta (7.1 percent) San Francisco (6.2 percent), and Portland (5.9 percent). 

Earlier this week, the Census released the most positive national income numbers in nearly a decade. They showed real median household incomes rose from $53,718 in 2014 to $56,516 last year.