Despite Streak of Prosperity, Poverty Still High in California

(CN) – The nation is hurtling toward an economic recession, according to experts at a panel discussion on poverty Tuesday – and they’re bracing for it to hit California especially hard.

Poverty in the Golden State remains stubbornly high despite one of the longest periods of job growth over last decade. According to the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC), nearly 7 million people in the state lack resources to meet their basic needs and as many live just above the poverty line.

At the panel discussion, PPIC policy director Caroline Danielson said if a Great Recession does hit more people will rely on social safety-net programs to soften their fall to poverty.

Peter Weber with California Bridge Academies said like the last recession, many more people will look to enroll in food voucher and other subsidy programs for the first time in their lives. That means people already living in poverty will be pushed down further.

“If we’re going to address those issues, we have to identity how to up-scale people,” Weber said.

This means integrating programs to lift up families so they have better access and navigate between social programs. According to PPIC, the child poverty rate in California would be 13% higher if not for those types of programs.

Richard Raya with the San Francisco-based Mission Promise Neighborhood said his group works with government and community partners to bolster education results. That includes a two-generation approach by working with families to get them into housing while making sure children graduate from school and start their careers so they can stay in their communities to build up wealth.

California Department of Social Services director Kim Johnson rounded out the panel and said compared to the last economic recession a decade ago, service providers better understand data and how to measure success in a different economic climate.

The panel also took note of the Golden State’s housing crisis, though Weber said elected officials aren’t solely to blame.

“Californians need to look at themselves in the mirror,” said Weber of people who protest affordable housing in their neighborhood. Housing costs and homelessness are linked but in many communities  people don’t want housing to be built at all, said Weber.

Last week, Governor Gavin Newsom signed a slew of bills to jumpstart housing production, including incentives for affordable housing and streamlining the permit and approval process for construction.

Newsom also signed a statewide cap on rent hikes to keep renters in their homes.

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