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Making Ends Meet

A Navy family unloads their shopping cart while purchasing groceries at the Navy Commissary located just outside Naval Air Station Oceana. U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate 1st Class Michael W. Pendergrass.

A look at the self-sufficiency standard – the income needed for families of various sizes to cover basic living expenses – and the san diegans whose wages don’t reach that level.

A third (33%) of working age families in San Diego County can’t make ends meet.

That’s more than 269,000 households, and more than 1 million individuals, living with incomes too low to cover basic expenses.

San Diego County’s poverty rate of 13.8% vastly undercounts the number of families living in economic insecurity. Fully a third of all households headed by people under age 65 have incomes below the cost of living in the region. Based on the costs of basic family budget items, the Self-Sufficiency Standard indicates the yearly income families need just to get by. The basic budget starts at almost $28,000 a year for a single adult, which would require an hourly wage of at least $13.23 if working full-time all year long. The budget grows with family size and differs according to the ages of children in the family. Self-Sufficiency is the ability to afford the bare-bones costs of living without public or private assistance. The calculation of the standard includes only no-frills items like housing, food, transportation, child care, healthcare, and taxes.

Women and children are most impacted by the gap between household incomes and the basic cost of living. Almost half (48%) of all households with children in the county can’t make ends meet, more than double the rate for households without children.

The costs of living balloon as family size grows, while incomes often don’t grow. Childcare and miscellaneous costs are particularly high for infants and preschool children. In addition, more than two thirds (69%) of households headed by single women have incomes too low to cover expenses, a significantly higher share than other types of households. Throughout the County, 100,931 children live in singleparent households with insufficient income, and 79,737 of them are children of single mothers.

Race & Ethnic Inequity

The basic costs of living in San Diego County, as represented in the Self-Sufficiency budget, are the same across all racial and ethnic groups, but incomes fall short much more often for Latino and Black families.

Latino households in the region are more than twice as likely as White households to live with incomes below the Self-Sufficiency Standard. However, all major racial and ethnic groups are affected, with many more families economically distressed than the County’s official poverty rate, which is 13.8% of the population and 12.2% of households.

Gender Inequity

Women earn 74 cents for every dollar men are paid in jobs throughout San Diego County.

With a median annual income of $30,569, compared to $41,447 for men, households headed by women are most likely to fall below the Self-Sufficiency Standard.

The gender pay gap is larger in some major industries, such as tourism and service industries. Only in construction, where relatively few women are employed, do women tend to earn more than men.

Work and Self-Sufficiency

In some of San Diego County’s major industries, almost half of employees have incomes too low to live self-sufficiently.

Jobs that pay too little to cover basic expenses are concentrated in some of the largest industries in the region, including tourism (hotels, restaurants, and entertainment), other services, retail sales, construction. Agriculture has relatively few jobs in the region but less than half of the workers make enough to get by.


The Self-Sufficiency Standard was developed by Dr. Diana Pearce at the University of Washington. See http://depts.washington. edu/selfsuff/docs/CA2014_ methodology.pdf. To be consistent with 2015 American Community Survey data, we updated or adjusted the Self-Sufficiency Standard budget categories to reflect 2015 costs using Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Fair Market Rents (FMRs) and the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Consumer Price Index Urban for Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W). Hourly wages to meet the Self-Sufficiency Standard are calculated assuming adults work eight hours per day for 22 days per month and 12 months per year. We then combined the Self-Sufficiency Standard annual budgets with American Community Survey 2015 1-year Public Use Microdata for residents of San Diego County. Consistent with prior Self Sufficiency Standard methodology, we limited the analysis to households headed by non-disabled persons under the age of 65, which we refer to as “working-age households.” This report was published in January 2017, using the most recently available data, from 2015.

Written by CPI San Diego

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