Poverty in San Mateo County much worse than reported, new study says 

Some 18 percent of San Mateo County residents live in poverty, almost three times as many people as are considered poor by the federal government, according to new data from Beth Mattingly, a Stanford University researcher.

Mattingly’s research sought to construct a more accurate measure of poverty levels by including more available data — especially the cost of housing, child care and transportation. Where federal statistics show that only 49,534 county residents live in poverty, Mattingly says the actual number is 136,033.

The dramatic difference is largely driven by housing costs, Mattingly said, because the Stanford poverty measurement considers more than noncash and post-tax resources, also including expenses. The new measurement method — called the California Poverty Measure — is part of the Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality’s ongoing effort to better understand the extent of economic hardship in the state.

The high cost of housing and the high number of low-paying jobs contribute to the problem. The average rental cost of a one-bedroom apartment in the county is $2,053 a month — an 8.2 percent increase over last year, according to county Housing Department data. Homelessness has also jumped 12 percent since 2011.

“When you take that federal poverty level, it comes closer to reality in Arkansas than on the Peninsula,” said Rayna Lehman of the San Mateo Labor Council. Lehman said based on reports from the Labor Council’s members, for some time now the poverty rate in the county has been much higher than 6.7 percent — or 49,534 of the county’s 739,311 residents.

Despite the federal government’s shutdown, safety net programs targeted at helping the less fortunate continue to offset poverty — to some extent. County officials say 52,754 families in the county receive aid such as food stamps, Medi-Cal, Social Security and other types of government assistance.

Such federally funded programs have had their budgets cut in recent years, which exacerbates problems for county residents teetering on the edge of poverty. The eligibility requirements are also very tight, Lehman said.

“It’s a known problem,” said Ben Turner, spokesman for state Assemblyman Kevin Mullin, D-South San Francisco. “The majority of job growth will be for workers who are making less than $50,000 a year.”

Turner said Mullin supported the state minimum wage increase — but believes it didn’t go far enough. The assemblyman also is working on several affordable-housing initiatives that may ease the pain. But funding such initiatives often requires support from both sides of the aisle — support that is sometimes difficult to find, Turner noted.

Many county residents look for additional assistance to get by. Roughly 76,600 people in the county turned to Second Harvest Food Bank in the past year — a 6 percent year-over-year increase.

“We are seeing need continue to rise, despite the improving economy,” spokeswoman Caitlin Kerk wrote in an email. Of the 76,600 who sought food aid, about 35,000 are children.

Federal officials were unavailable to comment on the federal poverty measurement due to the shutdown.

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