California Budget ChallengeAbout Next 10Budget Overview

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 8.5% in February 2021, up from 3.8% as of October 2019 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Total nonfarm employment fell 9.2% and government employment fell 7.3% from December 2019 to December 2020. Employment declined across all sectors over the 12 months—the sector that saw the greatest loss was Leisure & Hospitality (-35.4%) followed by Other Services (-23.9%), while the sector that saw the smallest decline was Construction (-1.5%).


According to the U.S. Census Bureau, California had the 22nd-highest poverty rate of 11.4% under the traditional poverty measure using the three-year average from 2017 to 2019 (the latest year for which data are available) among all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Louisiana and Mississippi tied for the highest rate at 19.1%, while New Hampshire had the lowest of 5.6%. The national average was 11.5% over the same time period.

Due largely to the high cost of housing, California has the highest poverty rate under the Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM), which takes cost of living into account. California’s SPM rate was 17.2%, compared to a national average of 12.5% (three year average 2017-2019). The District of Columbia had the next highest SPM rate at 16.7%, followed by Louisiana at 16.2% and Florida at 15.4%. California's SPM rate has been gradually improving, from a recent peak of 20.4% in 2018, though the data does not account for the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and recession.

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 from April to December 2020, compared to the same period in 2019, was +1.2%—significantly better than initially forecasted as a result of the pandemic and better than many other states in the nation.
    • The states that saw the largest gains were Idaho (+10.4%) followed by Utah (+8.0%), while the states that saw the largest losses were Alaska (-42.5%) followed by Hawaii (-17.0%).
    • The states that experienced the largest losses are those that depend heavily on tourism, oil and gas, or coal extraction—including Alaska (oil and gas) and Hawaii (tourism).
  • 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 10.3% ($16.6 billion) of General Fund revenues in 2021-22.
  • 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 2019, California ranked 17th in spending per capita with $7,604. Alaska spends the most with $15,240 and Florida spends the least with $3,845. The U.S. average is $6,416.

Take the Challenge