There are lies, damn lies and statistics, as Mark Twain and others remind us.
So, what to make of a new report that puts the number of Californians in poverty at 8.1 million, 25 percent higher than the official government estimate? Or the poverty rate in tech-rich San Francisco at 23 percent, almost double the official rate?
Short answer: A newly minted California Poverty Measure takes into account regional differences in the cost of living, which, as we know, is higher in California - and more so in San Francisco - but is not reflected in the calculations made by the federal government.
"It's a sobering picture," said Sarah Bohn, co-author of the report compiled by thePublic Policy Institute of California and the Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality.
Definitely sobering in the Bay Area where, according to 2011 data, approximately 20 percent of the population - 1.3 million people - are considered below the poverty "threshold." That includes 184,000 out of San Francisco's population of 788,000.
Other highlights of the report to be released Tuesday:
-- Were it not for the mitigating effect of the federal and state safety nets, California's poverty rate would be close to 30 percent, rather than the 16 percent reported by the U.S. Census Bureau.
-- California's children are the hardest hit, with one-quarter of them below the poverty line. Without the safety net, their numbers would be close to 3.6 million.
-- Working-age adults in California saw a 21 percent poverty rate in 2011. For adults 65 and over, the rate is 19 percent.
The California Poverty Measure combines a family's annual cash income, including federal and state cash benefits, with tax credits and obligations and in-kind benefits such as housing subsidies, food stamps and school lunch programs.
"Our goal was twofold: to reassess the resources people in all parts of the state need to make ends meet and to measure the resources they have more comprehensively," said Bohn, a research fellow at the PPIC.
In San Francisco, being poor refers to families of four making less than $36,000 - the same as San Mateo County and slightly more than Santa Clara County - not the $23,000 on which federal government figures are based.
"There are many more people in poverty than we thought, even in high wealth areas," said Bohn. And a family earning in the mid-$30,000 range in the Bay Area ($31,000 in Oakland) could hardly be said to be in the chips.
"The poverty rate is a blunt measure," said Bohn. "There's a lot more going on."
-- The full report, with appendices, can be downloaded Tuesday at www.ppic.org orwww.inequality.com/poverty/cpm