California's housing costs are driving its No. 1 poverty ranking

High housing costs are the main driver of California's poverty rate, experts say. Tim McGarry via Flickr

New figures from the U.S. Census Bureau show California has the country's highest poverty rate, with nearly one in five residents facing economic hardship when factoring in living costs such as housing.

The California Budget and Policy Center blamed high rents for keeping 20.4 percent of the population in poverty. Sara Kimberlin, a senior policy analyst at the center, said fair market rent for a two-bedroom apartment in the most populated parts of the state is more than $1,500 a month. But if someone is looking to spend 30 percent of their income on rent — what is generally considered reasonable — a minimum wage worker would only be able to budget $546 a month. That means a single mother earning that income, for example, wouldn't be able to find an affordable place for herself and her children.  

"There's a large gap between the cost of housing in California and even what people who are working full-time are able to afford," Kimberlin said.  

The Census Bureau's "Supplemental Poverty Measure" looks at the burden placed on households such as housing, taxes and medical costs. Without considering cost-of-living, California ranks 16th in the country, with an  "official" poverty rate of 14.5 percent, just slightly over the national average. 

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story misstated how much the state minimum wage earns a worker each month. The story has been corrected to say that $546 a month is 30 percent of what a minimum wage worker would have for housing based on the general rule that one should spend no more than that percentage of their income for shelter. KPCC regrets the error.