'Cal Facts' offers snapshot of state's finances, demographics, trends

'Cal Facts' dissects California's complexity in 72 pages: 'There is a lot going on ... a lot to understand'

SACRAMENTO — Want a whirlwind tour of California's economy and to delve into the Golden State's often-baffling finances, demographics and social trends?

Try Cal Facts. It's all there, jampacked in 72 pages of charts and graphs published every two years by the state's nonpartisan Legislative Analyst's office.

The latest edition can be found on the Internet. Printed copies are available by calling the office at (916) 319-8317.

The booklet's overall message, said legislative analyst Mac Taylor, is that California is complex.

"It's complicated with the state getting close to 40 million people," he said. "There is a lot going on ... and a lot to understand."

The enormousness of California's $2.2-trillion-a-year economy comes through on the first page of the report.

The state, if it were an independent nation, would rank eighth in the world for total domestic product in 2013.

The value of all California-produced goods and services was smaller than only the rest of the states taken together, China, Japan, Germany, France, Britain and Brazil.

California placed ahead of Russia and Italy in the top 10.

Among the states, California's gross domestic product was far bigger than that of its closest U.S. rival, Texas, with $1.5 trillion.

More than half of California's GDP total was concentrated in two spots: the Los Angeles-Orange County area and the San Francisco Bay area.

Most Cal Facts pages — whether dealing with macroeconomics, tax policy or healthcare — provide fodder for legislators, lawmakers, legislative staffers and legions of public policy and government finance wonks working at the Capitol.

"Oftentimes you'll find a little nugget that motivates you to look deeper into an issue," said Geoff Long, policy director for Senate President Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles).

For example, the graphs on income distribution and poverty paint a mixed picture that could spark differing interpretations.

The state's poor for the years 2011 through 2013 totaled 9 million. That was 23.4% of the state's population living below the poverty level when calculated to include public financial assistance and housing costs.

That is far greater than the 14.8% living in poverty in the nation as a whole.

But there's another side to California's income data. The state's median household income last year was $60,000, compared with $52,000 for the United States as a whole.

And although the rich in California were richer than top earners in other states, lower-income people also were slightly ahead of the pack.

People in the bottom 10th percentile made $13,200 a year, while the same group nationwide got only $12,000.

Cal Facts is useful because it explains dull but important issues, said Chris Hoene, executive director of the California Budget Project, which advocates for low-income people and the middle class.

"The challenge with fiscal and economic issues," he said, "is making them compelling."

marc.lifsher@latimes.com

Twitter: @MarcLifsher

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