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    Center on Policy Initiatives

San Diego County poverty rates dropped in 2016, but inequity persists

In the City of San Diego, the poverty rate fell in 2016 to 13.1%, a drop of 2.5 percentage points from the previous year and the lowest rate since pre-recession 2007. The child poverty rate also fell from 19.7% in 2015 to 15.5%, roughly the same as the pre-recession rate.

In San Diego County, across all cities and unincorporated areas, the poverty rate dropped more modestly from 13.8% to 12.3% in 2016. Almost 46,000 fewer individuals lived in poverty than during the previous year.

Despite the overall improvement in poverty rates, stark inequities persist. Poverty increased among Black and Asian families throughout the county, and poverty rates for both Black and Latino people remain at more than double the rate for non-Hispanic White people. Almost 1 in 4 Black and Latino children and nearly half of Native American children lived in poverty, compared to only about 7% of White children.

Similarly, the median household incomes of Black and Latino families in the County remain significantly below that of White households. While median household income rose by 5.3% over one year for White households – to $81,431 – the median declined for Black households, to $52,715, only about two-thirds as much.

Regional productivity, or GDP, more than recovered from the recession years ago. Median household income in San Diego County finally returned to within 1% of pre-recession levels in 2016. But the recovery has mostly benefited the highest-income households.

While the lowest-earning 20% of households saw small gains in their share of overall income last year, the highest-earning 20% continued to receive the largest gains. The concentration of gains in income among the wealthy primarily went to an even smaller group, the top-earning 5% of households. In fact, the lowest-earning households still have not recovered their pre-recession income levels.

Families headed by single mothers had a poverty rate of 29.2%, much higher than the 17.3% rate for single fathers.

The local poverty and income data released by the U.S. Census Bureau today was collected in surveys during calendar year 2016. It does not reflect any changes in 2017.

Poverty rates are based on Federal Poverty Thresholds, which vary by family size but are the same across the United States. For instance, the 2016 poverty threshold was an annual income of $12,228 for a single individual and $24,339 for a family of four.

Since those federal thresholds don’t account for the cost of living, many people in high-cost areas like San Diego live in economic hardship even with incomes double (200% of) the poverty level. The number and percentage of county residents with household incomes below that hardship level edged down in 2016, and remained almost a third of the population, or 971,392 people. Among children living with at least one parent, 38.7% lived below the economic hardship level.

One factor that may have helped lessen poverty was the minimum wage increase in the City of San Diego, which took effect in July 2016. The City’s more dramatic drop in poverty accounted for much of the drop countywide, while some other cities saw increases or little change. And although it was an improvement on the state minimum wage, the San Diego minimum wage remained at $10.50 an hour through the end of 2016, so it would have primarily affected workers with the lowest wages. The poverty rate among part-time workers in the City dropped by 4.2 percentage points, to 17.4%.

The lowest wages continued to be in the Accommodations and Food Services industry, with median earnings in the county of $27,383 for full-time year-round work. That was a 6% increase from 2015.

The changes in cities throughout the county were mixed. Poverty decreased in Oceanside, stayed virtually unchanged in Chula Vista and increased sharply in El Cajon. Overall, the county’s poverty rate dropped 1.5 percentage points countywide and child poverty dropped 1.3 percentage points.

“The 2016 data indicate that last year the economic recovery finally reached some of the lowest-income households in San Diego, and families were able to rise out of poverty,” said CPI Executive Director Kyra R Greene, PhD. “But far too many working families, especially those headed by women and people of color, continued to live in poverty in our community.”

Income & Earnings:

Media Coverage:

September 19, 2017 KPBS – San Diego Poverty Rate Drops Slightly, Disparities Remain  

Listen to our Executive Director Dr. Kyra Greene talk about the report on KPBS Midday Edition: 


September 18, 2017 San Diego Union-Tribune – Poverty rates drop in San Diego, but there are still big inequities by race 

September 14, 2017 Times of San Diego- San Diego Poverty Rate Drops in 2016, But Many Still Struggling



Written by CPI San Diego

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