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California is the richest and poorest state in the country

Published: Tuesday, Aug. 5 2014 4:20 a.m. MDT

The latest Census Bureau report says that California is both the wealthiest state and has the highest poverty rate

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Silicon Valley. Hollywood. Mark Zuckerberg.

California has a lot of money — more money than a lot of countries, nevermind states. If it were a nation, it would be the ninth-largest economy in the world.

And yet, the latest census bureau report says that California is both the wealthiest state and has the highest poverty rate in the country at 24 percent — meaning almost a quarter of Californians live in poverty. In a big state like California that's a lot of people — almost 9 million — or about the number of people living in New York City.

Some experts are calling the Golden State "fool's gold" where pockets of Hollywood and Google exec riches are surrounded by a surprising degree of economic struggle. The coast strip from Sonoma down to San Diego is largely flush with money, but the rest of the state, especially inland, people struggle to meet their needs.

Wilson Herrera, a welcome center coordinator for MEND, an organization that helps low-income families, told the Huffington Post that he has seen a dramatic rise in people looking for help over the last few years.

"They're approaching us because of the need, the need to put food on the table," he said, "Even if one member of the family is working, it's not enough for them."

Many Californians have lost jobs in the recession, or get paid less than they used to. Herrera says that five years ago, a construction worker could make $35 an hour, now the same job pays just $10, said Herrera.

Almost a third of California's 15 million Latinos live in poverty and bear the brunt of the problem, but California does not attract migrant workers the way that it used to, and this is not an immigration problem, according to The Economist.

Due to high cost of living and health care, many middle-class or formerly middle-class people struggle, especially older adults and retirees. According to a 2013 report by the Kaiser Family Foundation, 20 percent of California adults over age 65 live below the poverty threshold of about $16,000 annually, when taking into account the higher cost of housing and health care.

A lot of people are "falling through the cracks," Allison Pratt, the Alameda County Community Food Bank's director of policy and services told the Contra Costa Times. Even people who make middle-class wages can't always pay the bills when they pay California prices.

Even at a $35,500 income, "people still need help putting food on the table," Pratt said. "They earn a little too much to qualify for help but not enough to pay the bills."

Ann Stevens, director for the Center for Poverty Research at UC Davis, told the Contra Costa Times that the cost of living is what sinks a lot of California households.

"Anyone who has moved to California from somewhere else knows the dramatic increase of the cost of living," she said. "It's not more surprising that California looks more impoverished. It is really driven by the cost of housing. California is a very expensive place to live."

Email: laneanderson@deseretnews.com

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