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Power and the People The U.S. Census and Who Counts

Poverty, Displacement & Income

If the Bay Area has so much wealth, why are so many residents struggling to make ends meet? Researchers and policy makers use decennial census and American Community Survey data to investigate issues related to income and poverty, including public health outcomes, inequality, and displacement.

"If it is not possible to state unequivocally 'how much is enough,' it should be possible to assert with confidence how much, on an average, is too little."

– Mollie Orshansky, SSA Bulletin, 1965
  • In 1964, Mollie Orshansky developed the poverty thresholds that are still the basis of the official measure of poverty. At that time, families spent ⅓ of their income on food. Her food basket estimated the lowest cost to provide nutrition for families of different sizes and composition. Multiplying that cost by 3 yielded the poverty level, which has since been adjusted only for inflation, not expenses such as child care and increased housing costs.
  • Poverty guidelines simplify the poverty thresholds and are used to determine income eligibility for a variety of federal, state and local programs.
  • The maximum Cash Aid and Food Stamps a poor family receives in California. The total is about 50% below the poverty line. Note: the poverty line is the same for all states except Alaska and Hawaii, and is not adjusted for high cost metropolitan areas.
  • In addition to being one of the wealthiest metropolitan areas in the United States, data collected by the Census Bureau shows that median income in the San Francisco Bay Area has risen dramatically in the past few years. While overall median income has been rising around the San Francisco Bay Area, that wealth is not evenly distributed.


Displacement typologies in the San Francisco Bay Area

“What is the nature of gentrification and displacement in American cities?” UC Berkeley’s Urban Displacement Project uses “regional data on housing, income and other demographics to better understand and predict where gentrification and displacement is happening and will likely occur in the future.”

– Urban Displacement Project, UC Berkeley