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Fact Checking the Fact Checkers

Fact Checking the Fact Checkers

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One of the great things about the race for Governor of California is that it is being so closely covered by the press. Frankly, one of the reasons why we are doing so well is that the press is covering all the campaigns – and our message is getting out there.

One of the most diligent news organizations covering the race is PolitiFact – a Pulitzer Prize winning organization that fact checks statements made by candidates, elected officials and even other media outlets.

I love the whole idea of this project. Our campaign is about telling it like it is and we all win when politicians and candidates are held to account.

But I’m also not afraid to debate them when I think they are wrong. And I believe they are wrong when they say it is not true that California has 77 of the top 300 cities with the highest poverty in the nation.

Recently, I said at a forum hosted by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC):

“Seventy-seven of the top 300 cities with the highest poverty rate are in our state.”

PolitiFact weighed in and said that according to federal statistics on poverty, there were far fewer and that the 2015 study we used might be out of date since one of the factors creating poverty is unemployment, and unemployment has dropped in California. They also questioned our use of the term “poverty rate” when our source said “economically challenged.”

Five important points to make:

First, “economically challenged” in our view is equivalent to high rates of poverty. For any reader or listener, they are the same thing. The clear fact is California has the highest poverty in the nation.

Second, our source is the National Resource Network’s report, “Hidden in Plain Sight,” which said “California also has the highest concentration of economically challenged cities in the nation. While roughly 30 percent of all U.S. cities meet our definition of economically challenged, fully 25 percent of these cities are in this one state. These 77 localities account for just under 40 percent of all cities in the state with more than 40,000 residents. In total, nearly 12 million people live in these distressed communities, a population equal to that of the state of Ohio.” [National Resource Network, “Hidden in Plain Sight,” November 2015]

Third, it isn’t just the National Resource Network’s report that is showing this concentration of poverty in California. According to TownCharts.com, of the top 500 cities ranked by total in poverty, 100 of them are in California. [“Towncharts.com – United States Demographics Data.” Towncharts.com – United States Demographics Data. December 15, 2016.]

Now, it is fair to point out that according to TownCharts.com, of the top 300 cities ranked by poverty rate, 48 of those cities are in California. That number is lower than the 77 cited by the National Resources Network. But again, the number you find depends on how many factors you look at when you are considering poverty.

Fourth, yes the National Resource Network’s jobs numbers could have been out of date, but as unemployment fell, the cost of housing rose, and the cost of housing is one of the driving forces putting so many Californians into poverty. In fact, PolitiFact itself found it was true that California had the highest poverty rate in the nation using the Supplemental Poverty Measure from the U.S. Census. That measure takes into account costs like housing.

Fifth and finally, thank you to PolitiFact. We might not agree with them on this issue, but we appreciate the work they do.