Accuracy in Media

The Heritage Foundation’s Mike Gonzalez, a former Wall Street Journal columnist, tweeted that he’s always thought the New York Times had the best headline ever: “Despite drop in crime, an increase in inmates.”

But a new story from the Los Angeles Times might rival it: “Why is liberal California the poverty capital of America?”

The story begins by asking a question some would find incredible: How could California be poor when it does so much to fight poverty?

It begins by pointing out it’s “not Mississippi, New Mexico or West Virginia, but California,” that has the highest poverty rate. Then it poses the question that is central to the story:

“Given robust job growth and the prosperity generated by several industries, it’s worth asking why California has fallen behind, especially when the state’s per-capita GDP increased approximately twice as much as the U.S. average over the five years ending in 2016 (12.5 percent compared with 6.27 percent).

“It’s not as though California policymakers have neglected to wage war on poverty. Sacramento and local governments have spent massive amounts in the cause. Several state and municipal benefit programs overlap with one another; in some cases, individuals with incomes 200 percent above the poverty line receive benefits.

“California state and local governments spent nearly $958 billion from 1992 through 2015 on public welfare programs, including cash-assistance payments, vendor payments and ‘other public welfare,’ according to the Census Burau. California, with 12 percent of the nation’s population, is home today to about one in three of the nation’s welfare recipients.”

The generous spending, the Los Angeles Times reported, “not only failed to decrease poverty; it actually seems to have made it worse.”

The story reported that other states, including Wisconsin, Michigan and Virginia, enacted welfare reform in the 1980s and ‘90s in which they implemented work requirements that led to welfare rolls plummeting and millions of former aid recipients returning to the labor force. But California, where Democrats dominate, “resisted pro-work reforms,” the Times said.

“In fact, California recipients of state aid received a disproportionately large share of it in no-strings-attached cash disbursements. It’s as though welfare reform passed California by, leaving a dependency trap in place. Immigrants are falling into it: 55 percent of immigrant families in the state get some kind of means-tested benefits, compared with just 30 percent of natives.”

The story pointed out the welfare bureaucracy has no incentive to make this better.

“With 883,000 full-time-equivalent state and local employees in 2014, California has an enormous bureaucracy,” it reports. “Many work in social services, and many would lose their jobs if the typical welfare client were to move off the welfare rolls.”

The state’s labyrinthine environmental rules also contribute, the story said. Land-use regulations imposed by state and local governments drive up the cost to build. A single law, the California Environmental Quality Act, can add $1 million to the cost of completing a housing development, it quoted an Oakland land-use attorney as saying.

Because of costs associated with these regulations, more than 40 percent of California households spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing – a high number that limits other spending and forces many to “accept lower standards of living” and drives others into poverty.

Energy costs, also driven higher by regulation, also claim an inordinate amount of Californians’ paychecks.

The writer is Kerry Jackson of the Pacific Research Institute, a conservative organization that gets the connection between anti-poverty spending and increased poverty. But the fact such a story could run in the Los Angeles Times and under that particular headline says the concepts presented therein may be clear to Jackson and his organization, but they remain foreign to the editors at the Los Angeles Times.

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