California has the highest poverty level of all states in the US, according to US Census Bureau data

An aerial view of San Francisco's first temporary sanctioned tent encampment for the homeless on May 18, 2020 in San Francisco, California. After public outrage mounted over a surge of homeless people and tents filling the streets of San Francisco during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the City opened its first temporary sanctioned tent encampment.
An aerial view of San Francisco’s first temporary sanctioned tent encampment for the homeless on May 18, 2020 in San Francisco, California. After public outrage mounted over a surge of homeless people and tents filling the streets of San Francisco during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the City opened its first temporary sanctioned tent encampment. Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
  • California has the highest poverty rate in the US, a Census Bureau report shows.
  • The District of Columbia was the only location with a higher rate of poverty than California.
  • Despite this, California’s three-year poverty level average has decreased considerably since 2018.
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California remains the state with the highest poverty level in the US, according to a September 2021 report from the US Census Bureau.

In the report, three-year poverty level averages were calculated for each state and the District of Columbia using the supplemental poverty measure, which found that 15.4% of California residents lived in poverty from 2018 to 2020. Only the District of Columbia had a higher rate of poverty – 16.5%.

The supplemental poverty measure expands on the official poverty measure, which was developed by Social Security economist Mollie Orshansky in the 1960s, by accounting for cost of living, work and medical expenses, tax credits, and government programs designed to assist low-income families and individuals.

By comparison, California’s three-year poverty level average has considerably decreased from 17.2 % in 2019, and 18.1% in 2018.

Social Security transfers and stimulus payments prevented a combined 38.2 million individuals across the US from falling into poverty, while medical expenses caused the largest increase of the number of individuals in poverty, according to the Census Bureau report.

Californians benefited the most from government programs like the Earned Income Tax Credit, CalFresh, and Child Tax Credit, each of which lowered poverty rates in California by more than 1% in 2019, research from the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) found.