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California’s Extreme Economy Creates a New Class of ‘Poor’

LOS ANGELES — Only in California, it would seem, could Muhammad’s way of life be considered “poor.”

His monthly income is $4,000 to $5,000. But in San Francisco’s Ocean Beach neighborhood, he needs every penny. The rent for his one-bedroom apartment (for three children and his wife) is $2,200, and Muhammad has to take every job that comes his way, often working 12- to 15-hour days.

“I think I’m one job away from what people would consider poverty,” says Muhammad, who asked that his last name be omitted. “But yeah, there’s an underlying feeling of being impoverished.”

The struggles of working families to make ends meet amid rising housing and child care costs is well known. The Census Bureau has even put a name on it: the supplemental poor. And California has a supplemental poor problem.

What the supplemental measure shows is that the definition of poverty is changing in some states, says Michael Herald, director of policy advocacy at the Western Center on Law and Poverty, a nonprofit that advocates for low-income Californians.

“There’s a whole group of people we didn’t really think about being poor before, but are just as poor in many cases as those below the poverty line.”

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