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Poverty and Income in North County San Diego

Analysis of regional data from the US Census Bureau 2015 American Community Survey

Key Findings:

  • Poverty in North County: One of every eight people living in the North County region of San Diego County – 12.1% of the population – lived in poverty in 2015. The poverty rate varied across North County cities from 5% to 19.2%.
  • Income Inequality: The median household income in North County was $75,095 in 2015, more than $7,000 higher than the medians for the whole county and the City of San Diego. The difference between cities with the highest and lowest median income in North County was more than $47,000.
  • Low Pay in Key Industries: Among the civilian industries employing the most North County residents, the lowest incomes were in the Accommodation and Food Services industry, primarily hotels and restaurants. The median annual pay for North County residents employed full-time and year-round in that industry was $28,035.


The North County region is home to more than 103,000 men, women, and children who live below the federal poverty level, out of a population of 854,200 in the region. US Census Bureau data released this year show a poverty rate of 12.1% in the North County area, compared to 13.8% for the entire county. The poverty rate remained higher than before the 2008 recession. The income limit of the federal poverty level (FPL) varies by family size; in 2015 a family of four was below the FPL with an annual income below $24,036.


Since the national measure of poverty is not adjusted for the high cost of living in San Diego County,* we also analyzed the share of the population living below the economic hardship level of 200% of the FPL. This measure provides a more realistic count of the families and individuals who struggle with low incomes. In North County, 232,264 people, or 27.2% of the population, lived in economic hardship in 2015, compared to 31.2% in San Diego County overall.
 *CPI “Making Ends Meet 2014” https://www.cpisandiego.org/making_ends_meet


The cities of Escondido, Oceanside, San Marcos, and Vista all had poverty rates higher than the San Diego County overall rate of 13.8% in 2015.

The rate was highest in Vista, where 19.2% of the population and 31% of all children lived below the federal poverty level. In four of five North County cities where Census data is available, the poverty rate remained higher than it was in 2007, before the recession, indicating that the recovery has not reached all families. Almost a quarter of North County’s impoverished residents were in Oceanside, where the poverty rate increased the most since 2007.

Children of North County were more likely than adults to live in households with poverty-level incomes.

Child poverty rates were higher than the general rate in each city and in the region overall, while senior citizens had lower poverty rates than the general population. For the entire North County area, 16% of children lived below the poverty line, double the rate for seniors.


Poverty across racial and ethnic categories follows the same pattern found in the County overall, with the lowest poverty rate among Whites. However, the pattern is starker in North County, where the poverty rate for White people is substantially lower while poverty rates for Latino, Black, and Asian people are higher, compared to the County overall.


The median – or midpoint – of all household incomes in North County was $75,095 in 2015.

That is more than $7,000 higher than the medians for the whole county and for the City of San Diego, but there was much variation among North County cities. Encinitas had the highest median household income in the region, $101,703, while three of the five largest cities in the region – Escondido, Oceanside, and San Marcos – each had median incomes lower than the City of San Diego or the entire County.


As in the City of San Diego, one fifth of all households in North County received 50% of all the income in the region in 2015. By contrast, the lowest income-earning fifth of households received only 3.4% of all income.


The median cost of renting a 2-bedroom apartment in North County was $1,485, and ranged from $1,260 in Escondido to $1,877 in Carlsbad. Housing, the biggest expense in most family budgets, is considered unaffordable if it consumes more than 30% of household income. In North County a household needs at least $59,400 per year to afford the median 2-bedroom rent without having to resort to survival strategies such as relying on public benefits, going into debt, or doing without other needed items. More than half of renters throughout the region have unaffordable housing relative to their income, except in Carlsbad, where it’s not quite half.

In the North County region, 43.5% of adults (over age 16) living in poverty had jobs in 2015.

That includes 8,494 people who worked full-time all year and were paid less than the federal poverty threshold. Among the 10 industries that had 20,000 or more employees living in North County, the Accommodation and Food Services industry – primarily hotels and restaurants – had the lowest civilian earnings; median annual pay for North County residents employed full-time and year-round in that industry was $28,035 in 2015. The US military had the lowest pay rates but also provided room and board at Camp Pendleton or an additional allowance for family housing. Only two of the largest 10 industries – Manufacturing and the combined Professional, Scientific, and Technical Services industry – had median earnings above the $59,400 needed to afford the median rent for a 2-bedroom apartment in the region, indicating that many families must have at least two incomes to get by.


All data are from the Census Bureau’s 2015 1-year American Community Survey (ACS). North County regional estimates are based on analysis by CPI of 2015 ACS data Public Use Microdata. We defined “North County” based on the Census Bureau’s Public Use Microdata Areas (PUMAs) 07301, 07303, 07304, 07305, 07306, and 07309, which include Camp Pendleton, Oceanside, Vista, Carlsbad, San Marcos, Escondido, Encinitas, Solana Beach, Rancho Santa Fe, Fairbanks Ranch, as well as areas surrounding or between these cities and places. We also used Census data available separately for most cities of over 65,000 population, and limited 2015 estimates available for cities or places with population between 20,000 and 65,000 (e.g., Encinitas).

Funding from Leichtag Foundation made this report possible.      

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CPI San Diego
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