News Analysis

By Drew Phelps

Fresno County is finally number one … in the percentage of individuals living in poverty.

According to the results of the U.S. Census’ single-year American Community Survey from 2016, Fresno County reached the top position among the largest 40 counties in California after years of vying for second.

Last year’s iteration of the survey found 25.6% of individuals in Fresno County are living in poverty. Though this represented a slight rise since 2015’s 25.3% figure, the five-year trend, emerging from the Great Recession, is still declining. Since 2012, the rate has fallen 2.8%.

The issue in Fresno is not the direction of the trend, but rather, how quickly the change is taking place. Tulare County, which occupied the top spot on this list for years, has seen its poverty decline at a faster rate: 5.2% since 2012 and 2.4% from last year.

Statewide, the poverty rate for 2016 was 14.3%, a 1% drop from 2015 and 2.7% decline since 2012.

Fresno County Was One of Seven Counties to see Poverty Rise

Despite the fairly comparable long-term rates, Fresno’s recovery has lagged behind most of the state. It was only one of seven counties in California that saw increases in the poverty rate from 2015 to 2016. Fortunately for those of us merely commentating on the issue, there is little in these more recent trends to suggest any alarming change; they are simply fluctuations occurring within a relatively defined range.

Instead, what should be alarming to leaders and stakeholders is the defined range to which we have become accustomed. When approximately one of every four individuals is living in poverty, there is a significant problem at hand.

With such poverty present, it is unsurprising that Fresno is also a leader in income inequality. Trailing only Merced by .005 points, Fresno is second among Valley counties in its Gini Index score.

According to the CIA World Factbook, “Gini index measures the degree of inequality in the distribution of family income.” The lower the score, the more equal the income among residents. The census uses a normalized 0 to 1 scale; thus, a score of one represents “perfect” inequality, while a zero signifies complete equality.

Marin County Leads in Inequality

Fresno received a score of .491. For comparison, Marin County, the most unequal in California, scored .5245.

Despite being nowhere near the inequality in the Bay Area, especially Marin, Fresno is still slightly less equal than the state as a whole. California’s score for 2016 was .4899.

Ironically, by this measure, Fresno County is a microcosm of California – we just have the uber-poor, rather than the uber-rich, tipping the balance.

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