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Budget Basics

California vs. Other States

How does California compare to other states? 


California represents the fifth-largest economy in the world and its 39.25 million residents give it the largest population in the United States. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate was 5.4% in February 2022, down from 8.5% in February 2021. The unemployment rate was 3.8% in October 2019 before the onset of the pandemic. Total nonfarm employment grew 6.8% and government employment grew 3.7% between February 2021 and February 2022. Employment grew across the vast majority of sectors over the 12 months as the state continued to rebound from the sharp decreases seen at the state of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020. Leisure & Hospitality grew 32.5% followed by Other Services (14.9%). Total farm employment declined by 0.4% and federal government employment declined by 1.7%.


According to the U.S. Census Bureau, California had the 22nd-highest poverty rate of 11% under the traditional poverty measure using the three-year average from 2018 to 2020 (the latest year for which data are available) among all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Mississippi had that the highest rate at 18.8% followed by Louisiana at 17.4%, while New Hampshire had the lowest of 5.3%. The national average was 11.2% over the same time period.

Due largely to the high cost of housing, California has the second-highest poverty rate under the Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM), which takes cost of living into account. California’s SPM rate was 15.4%, compared to a national average of 11.2% (three-year average 2018-2020). The District of Columbia had the highest SPM rate at 16.5%, followed by Mississippi at 16.2% and Florida at 15.4%. California's SPM rate has been gradually improving, as it is down from 17.2% over the three-average from 2017 to 2019.

Comparison of Tax Rate by Type

  • California has among the highest income tax rates for upper-income households and one of the lowest income tax rates for lower-income households. In 2017, the top 1% of income taxpayers in California accounted for over 47% of income tax revenue.
  • California's state tax revenue was 9.6% higher cumulatively in 2020 and 2021 than fiscal year 2019 extended over the same period, adjusted for inflation—the third-highest in the nation. It was 4.1% higher in the U.S. as a whole.
    • The states that saw larger gains were Idaho (17.3%) and Utah (10%), while the states with the largest losses were Alaska (-39.1%) followed by North Dakota (-18.5%).
    • Tax revenue in Q2 of 2021 was 26% higher than the state would have raised if collections had held steady at pre-pandemic levels. For comparison, it was 14% lower in Q2 2020 under the same measure.
    • The states that experienced the largest losses are those that depend heavily on oil and gas extraction—including Alaska and North Dakota.
  • California has the highest state sales tax rate (7.25%) in the nation, but taxes few services compared to other states.
  • California has the 8th-highest corporation tax rate (flat tax of 8.84%) and corporation tax revenue is projected to account for 12.1% ($23.7 billion) of General Fund revenues in 2022-23.
  • California has below-average property tax rates, but higher property values. Californians paid $1,680 per capita in property taxes in 2018 (the latest year for which data are available)—the 18th-highest in the nation. The highest state and local property tax collections per capita are in Washington, D.C. ($3,740) and the lowest are in Alabama ($598). The national average was $1,675 in 2018.
  • California collects revenue much differently than other states. In many states, property taxes represent a greater proportion of revenues than income taxes. The situation in California is reversed due to Proposition 13, which limits property tax rates, and its highly progressive income tax structure.

California spends more total dollars for public services than other states largely due to its large population, so per-person (or "per capita") comparisons are the most useful. As of 2020, California ranked 12th in spending per capita with $9,040. Alaska spent the most with $16,288 and Florida spent the least with $3,987. The U.S. average was $6,906.

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