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United Way report reveals Kern County incomes aren't meeting the cost of living

According to a new study on poverty released by United Ways of California, 4 in 10 Kern County families don't make enough money to meet basic needs like food, rent, and medical care.
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Posted at 6:24 PM, Jul 11, 2023

KERN COUNTY, Calif. (KERO) — The United Ways of California has released a new study that finds 34 percent of California residents can't afford their basic needs, and the situation is even worse for Kern County.

The Real Cost Measure Dashboard offers a comparison of the national poverty rate versus the Real Cost Measure based on household size, and according to the findings, 40 percent of households in Kern County don't earn enough income to cover basic living expenses.

United Ways of California Director of Program Policy and Development Henry Gascon is one of the study's authors.

"We think that 4 in 10 families struggling to make ends meet in Kern County is unacceptable. That number should be much lower," said Gascon.

According to Gascon, the official poverty measure fails to accurately represent how many people are struggling financially in California, but the Real Cost Measure provides an opportunity to address the challenges for Kern County residents.

"One of the things we've learned in particular in the Central Valley is that the amount of earning potential is certainly lower in the Central Valley compared to other parts of the state, so this gives us the opportunity to find out what's going on within this wonderful agricultural community in the Central Valley, in Kern County, that's really driving wages down," said Gascon.

According to the study, Black and Hispanic households struggle the most to meet their needs, including housing, food, health care, child care, and other basic essentials. Of the more than 91,000 Kern County households that fall below this standard, 60,000, nearly a third, are Hispanic.

Eric Arias is the Bakersfield City Council Representative for Ward 1 as well as Vice President for the United Way of Kern County.

"It's going to take, for a family of 4; 2 parents, 2 children, it's going to take us about $74,000 dollars just to make ends meet," said Arias. "So if you contrast that with what the actual poverty index shows us, which is about $43,000, there's a significant gap there."

Arias says he plans to let the data drive the conversation to create solutions for the disparities between household incomes and the cost of living.

"We really need to be strategic and focused on where we are providing the most support and the most amount of resources, whether that's in infrastructure development, whether that's in new projects around town, or even within our own nonprofits," said Arias.

The United Way of Kern County will host a roundtable discussion on Thursday, July 13 at Bakersfield College to discuss the data and brainstorm potential solutions for addressing the inequity and poverty in Kern County.

"So this will be an opportunity for us to really think about Kern County as it is now, what we want it to be, and what are some of the opportunities we can do together to get there," said Gascon.

For more information about the study conducted by the United Ways of California, take a look at the Real Cost Measure Dashboard, or to look up the specific statistics for any California county, please visit the Real Cost Measure information page at the UWC website.