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Poverty, Income, and Earnings in the City of San Diego, 2018

The City of San Diego has a higher poverty rate than the County overall. Compared to other large cities in the County, the City of San Diego had the third highest poverty rate in 2018.

According to the latest US Census figures the poverty rate in the City of San Diego remained almost the same, dropping 0.2 percentage points from the previous year to 12.9%. The poverty rate in the City of San Diego (12.9%) remains higher than pre-recession 2007 and higher than the overall poverty rate for the County of San Diego (11.8%). Click here to see our latest report on poverty, income and earnings in the County of San Diego.

The federal government’s poverty thresholds—which define who is poor and who is not— are the same across the nation, despite differences in cost of living. In 2018, the poverty threshold for an individual was less than $12,784 and was $25,701 for a family of four. The poverty thresholds underestimate the number of poor people, especially in high-cost areas like San Diego. Since the poverty rate inaccurately reflects the number of people struggling to make ends meet in San Diego County, we also include US Census data about the number of people whose income is less than twice the poverty threshold. The 200% of poverty threshold provides a better picture of how many San Diegans are living in conditions of severe economic hardship.

More Than 1 in 3 Children in the City of San Diego Live in Families Experiencing Economic Hardship


The child poverty rate fell from 18.6% in 2017 to 17.1%, yet the percentage of children living in economic hardship increased slightly from 36.53% in 2017 to 36.99%. This means that more than 100,000 children in the City of San Diego live in families struggling to make ends meet. Overall almost 400,000 or more than 1 in 4 residents in the City of San Diego struggle to make ends meet.

Stark disparities exist for Black, Latinx and Native American children in comparison to White children and Asian children.

Almost 1 in 3 Black children and Native American children live in poverty. Nearly 20% (1 in 5) Latinx children live in poverty, compared to only about 9% of White children. While Black, Latinx, and White youth populations have experienced decreases in poverty over the last ten years, Native American youth have experienced increases in poverty rates over the same period. While these data show that many San Diego residents experience poverty, the consistently higher rates of poverty among Black, Latinx and Native American people highlight the need for racially targeted programs.

Black, Latinx, Native American and Asian Households are Paid Less in the City of San Diego than White Households

The median household income in the City of San Diego increased by 1.5% in 2018, but these increases weren’t evenly distributed, with Native American, Asian, and Latinx households experiencing decreases between 3-5%. Since 2010, median income has increased by 15% for the City of San Diego. However, Black, Latinx, and Native American households’ incomes in the City remain significantly below (approximately 40-46% less than) that of White households.


Among white households median income rose by 3% between 2017 to 2018 – from $89,580 to $92,267.  Black households experienced an increase in median income from $47,460 to $54,931, 16%. Yet, Black households continue to have only 60% as much as White households in the City of San Diego. The unequal income distribution between White households and Black, Latinx, and Native American households is persistent.

Specifically, when looking at the difference between median income by race compared to the City of San Diego median income, Black and Latinx households’ incomes have consistently been less than the city median.

The poverty rate increased for both Black and Asian households throughout the city, while it decreased for White, Latinx and Native American households. Despite these changes within racial categories, the overall nature of racial inequality has not changed. Poverty rates for both Black and Latinx people remain at more than double the rate for White people.

Income Inequality Has Worsened over the Years

The highest income families have an increasingly larger percentage of the total income in the City of San Diego while the lowest income families (the bottom 40% of income earners) possess less. The top 5% of income earners have almost as much income as the bottom 60% of households. Half of all the income in the City of San Diego is going to the top 20% of income earners.


Housing-cost Burden in the City of San Diego

Housing experts, including the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, consider households who spend more than 30% of their monthly income on housing costs to be housing burdened. Renters make up the majority (53%) of occupied housing units in the City of San Diego. The percentage of renters has grown by 6.7% since 2007. More than half (55.74%) of all renters and almost two in five (37.6%) homeowners are experiencing housing-cost burden in the City of San Diego. The burden for renters in the City of San Diego is slightly higher than renters’ housing burden in California (54.6%) and even higher than the national rate (49.7%), but is lower than San Diego County overall (57.8%).

Low Pay Among the City of San Diego’s Vital Workforce

For many of the workers who have been deemed essential during the COVID-19 crisis, the median income in these professions in 2018, were not enough to support a family. According to our most recent Making Ends Meet report, in 2017 a family with one adult and two children needed $66,145 a year to cover basic expenses. A family with 2 adults and 2 children needed $88,616 a year to cover basic necessities. Because of gender disparities in pay, this is particularly true for women in these professions. The annual median income for health care and social assistance workers was $45,799; $45,315 for educational services; $26,952 for retail workers; $23,358 for accommodations and food services; $36,376 for construction, and $30,394 for administrative support and waste management. Women are paid significantly less than men (65.8%) in the health care and social assistance, the largest industry in the City of San Diego. Women are paid less in all of the largest industries except construction and administrative and support and waste management services.



Except where otherwise noted, data are from the US Census Bureau’s 2018 1-year American Community Survey (ACS). City of San Diego data for 2019 will not be available until late September of 2020.

Annually, CPI releases a series of Poverty, Income, and Earnings Reports providing the latest data and insight on regional poverty, income, and earnings. These reports are used by advocates and policymakers to make informed, positive changes that improve the environmental, mental, and physical health of our community. We would like to thank the San Diego County Board of Supervisors for supporting this year’s report series.

Written by CPI San Diego

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