20 of the Poorest Cities in California

LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 21:  Space Shuttle Endeavour arrives in L.A. over Santa Monica beach atop a NASA transport plane on September 21, 2012 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images)

Each year, countless people flock to California for vacation in hopes of grabbing a small piece of American paradise. When most people think of California, beaches, fun, and Hollywood are probably the first things that come to mind. Although California is a state full of diversity, people only tend to see the good, and think of the larger cities such as Los Angeles and San Francisco.  However, as with any place else, there are parts of California that are anything but paradise.  In fact, there are certain parts of the state, that are among the poorest in the country.  Although it may be hard for some people to believe, everything isn’t all good in the Golden State. Here are 20 of the poorest cities in California.

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Salinas, California isn’t a place that many people outside of the state have probably ever heard of. However, Salinas is the largest city in Monterey County. But despite its size Salinas has one of the lowest per capita incomes in the state at $18,060.  In fact, Salinas tends to be poorer and less educated than other places in the state of California, and the United States as a whole.

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Moreno Valley

Between 2009 and 2013, nearly 20% of the people in Moreno Valley, California were living under the federal poverty line.  Although the city’s population is nearly 200,000, making it the second largest city in Riverside county, people of all ages in the area seem to be struggling financially.

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El Centro

For the last several years especially, the city of El Centro has been dealing with some serious struggles. During the recession, El Centro was one of the poorest medium sized cities in the country.  Even now, the city struggles with extreme poverty and high unemployment rates, and the per capita income is just $18,273.

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Santa Fe Springs

Located in Los Angeles county, more than 12% of the population in Santa Fe Springs lives below the poverty line.  Although most people think of entertainment industries when they think of California, the economy in the city is made up mostly of the light industry and other factory related jobs.

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Santa Maria

Located about 120 miles from Los Angeles, Santa Maria is one of the largest cities in Santa Barbara County.  Nearly 20% of the city’s residence are living below the poverty line and although the per capita income has gone up over the last several years, it’s still just $18,915 dollars which is substantially lower than the national average.

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The city of Ontario, California is another city that you’ve probably never heard of. In fact, there’s a good chance you didn’t even know there was a place called Ontario anywhere other than Canada.  However, Ontario actually has more than 150,000 residents and has the 15th busiest airport in the country. But despite those facts, the city is still struggling with poverty and more than 15% of the people there are living below the poverty line.

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Located in Los Angeles county, the city of Palmdale has much of its economy rooted in the aerospace industry, even referring to itself as the “aerospace capital of the United States.” But even with a foot in the aerospace door, Palmdale’s economy isn’t booming.  More than 20% of the city’s residence were recorded as living in poverty in the most recent census, and the median income was recently listed at just over $19,000.

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Norwalk is another city in Los Angeles County whose residence are dealing with some serious financial issues. While the median income has been recorded at approx. $60,000, the per capita income is still under $20,000 and nearly 13% of the people in the city are living below the federal poverty line.

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Hawthorne is a relatively small city, but that doesn’t mean it’s without its problems. Although the population is less than 100,000, nearly 20% of the people in the city are living below the federal poverty line. Unlike some of the other cities in the list, Hawthorne doesn’t have a specific economic industry.

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Fresno is a city that you’ve probably heard of. Fresno is a very diverse city that is home to people from several ethnic groups.  It is also the fifth largest city in California and one of the 50 largest states in the United States. But despite its size, and the fact that there are several decent size companies in the city, more than 26% of the people in Fresno are living below the poverty line.

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Stockon is another city you’ve probably heard of, and it’s the county seat of San Joaquin County. For the last decade or so, Stockon’s economy has been facing some serious challenges.  When the housing market reached a low point in 2007, the city was greatly effected. The value of houses all throughout the city dropped, and Stockton led the country in foreclosures in 2007.  In 2012, the city filed for bankruptcy, making it the largest city in the history of the country to do so. Although the city is trying to regain its footing, it’s still in serious recovery mode.

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Los Angeles County Homeless Population nears 90,000

Garden Grove

When people think of Orange County, they often think of wealth and high-class.  However, the city of Garden Grove proves that that isn’t always the case.  Garden Grove is a medium size city that is relatively poor compared to other cities in the state of California and other cities in the country. With more than 15% of the population living below the federal poverty line, things in this part of Orange County aren’t looking so glamorous.

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Poverty Rate Rises To 15 Year High

El Cajon

Located in San Diego County, the city of El Cajon is one of the poorest cities in the county.  In fact, in 2010 it had the highest percentage of poverty out of all the cities in San Diego County. Although the population seems to be growing, the economy of the city doesn’t seem to be growing with it which could eventually present bigger problems down the line.

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The entire Bakersfield metro area has been struggling with poverty over the last several years.  In fact, just a few years ago, the area was one of the poorest in the entire country. Despite the city’s size, the per capita income is just slightly over $20,000 which is still lower than the national average.

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San Bernardino

In 2011, San Bernardino was the second poorest largest big city in the United States.  Things in the city were so bad that nearly 35% of its residence were living in poverty  and the gap between the rich and the poor was only continuing to grow. Although things in the city have gotten a little better, trying to recover is an ongoing process.

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When people think of Anaheim, they probably think of Disney Land.  However, for many, it may be tough to accept that now too far outside of the Disney gates, the people of Anaheim are dealing with some serious issues regarding poverty. More than 14% of the people in Anaheim are living below the poverty line and the per capita income is just over $23,000. The sad reality is that there are a good number of people living in Anaheim who probably can’t even afford to go to Disney Land.

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Humboldt is often associated with hippies.  With its history in the marijuana business, Humboldt has built quite the reputation over the years. However, despite efforts to make marijuana the center of the city’s economy, many of the people in Humboldt are living below the federal poverty line. Not only is the per capita income low at just over $24,000 but the income for an entire family in Humboldt is only $52,000

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Poverty Rate Rises To 15 Year High

El Monte

El Monte is a city in Los Angeles county where nearly a quarter of the population is living below the poverty line. Unfortunately, the economy in the city doesn’t seem to be getting much better and things have been at somewhat of a standstill over the last few years. However, despite the financial struggles, the city has a reputation for being friendly.

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Sacramento Tent City Fills Up With The Newly Jobless And Homeless


As with any large city, poverty in Sacramento has always been an issue. Over the last few years especially, there has seemed to be an increase in poverty throughout the city, and the recession certainly didn’t help things.  Although Sacramento is working to build itself up, the population of homeless people in the city doesn’t seem to be decreasing.

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Los Angeles

Very few people think of poverty when they think of Los Angeles. However, if you were around during the 80s and 90s you know that Los Angeles has been dealing with poverty and violence for quite some time. In fact, according to some charts, Los Angeles is the poorest big city in the country.  Los Angeles county is also home to the majority of poor cities in the state. The high cost of living in L.A. also makes it difficult for people to keep their heads above water, even while working full-time jobs.

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