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County of San Diego Remains Filled with Inequality

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

The latest US Census figures (2018 ACS data) show a slight decline in the overall poverty rate in San Diego County, yet stark inequalities persist.

In San Diego County, which includes 18 cities and the unincorporated areas of the county, the poverty rate declined slightly in 2018 to 11.8%, a drop of 0.4 percentage points from the previous year.

The federal government’s poverty thresholds—which define who is poor and who is not— are not adjusted based on the cost of living in different parts of the country. In 2018, the poverty threshold for an individual was less than $12,784 and was $25,701 for a family of four. These federal thresholds underestimate the number of poor people in high-cost areas like San Diego. Since the poverty rate does not accurately reflect the number of people struggling to make ends meet in San Diego County, we 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.

Almost 30% of Children in San Diego County Live in Families Experiencing Economic Hardship

The child poverty rate also declined from 15.7% in 2017 to 14.9%, which is roughly the same as the rate of childhood poverty before the Great Recession began in 2007. Despite this decrease in the rate of childhood poverty, a significant  number of children still lived in households with extremely low incomes in 2018. More than 110,000 children lived in families whose income was below the federal poverty threshold and more than 250,000 children lived in economic hardship.

Poverty and Income Disparities Persist between White Households and Black & Latinx Households, while Asian Households Experienced Increased Poverty

Despite modest improvements in overall poverty rates, racial and ethnic disparities persist. Poverty rates decreased among Black and Latinx families throughout the county over the last year. In contrast, Asian and White households experienced an increase in poverty between 2017 and 2018.

Childhood poverty rates increased for both White and Asian households. Nevertheless, Black and Latinx youth continued to be significantly more likely to live in poverty in San Diego County. In 2018, 1 in 4 Black youth (25%) and 1 in 5 Latinx youth (20%)  lived in poverty, compared to about 1 in 10 White youth (10%)  and 1 in 10 Asian youth (10%). In other words, Black children were 2.5 times more likely to live in poverty than White and Asian youth and Latinx children were 2 times more likely to live in poverty than White and Asian youth. Black and Latinx youth are more likely to live in poverty than are adults of the same race, whereas White and Asian youth are less likely to live in poverty than are adults of the same race.

The median household incomes of Black and Latinx households in the County remain significantly below that of White and Asian households.  Black and Latinx median household incomes were approximately 62.4% and 67% of White median household income. This inequity persists even though Black median household income increased by 16.3% and Latinx household median income increased by 2.7% between 2017 and 2018.

Income Inequality Has Worsened During the Economic “Recovery”

Income inequality was worse in 2018 than it was before the Great Recession. The highest income families have an increasingly larger percentage of the total income in San Diego County while the lowest income families (the bottom 60% of income earners) possess less. The top 5% of income earners have almost as much income as the bottom 60% of households.

More than Half of the Renters in San Diego County are Housing Burdened

Experts consider households who spend more than 30% of their monthly income on housing costs to be housing burdened.  San Diego County renters are enduring high rent costs, with almost 60% of renters spending over 30% of their income on rent.

Median Pay in San Diego County’s Largest Industries

Four of the ten largest industries in San Diego County do not pay enough for the average individual in that industry to make ends meet, with median wages of less than $30,000 per year. Women are paid less than men in all of the 10 largest industries. Among the largest industries, the smallest gender wage gap is in construction industry and in administrative and support and waste management services sector.


Except where otherwise noted, data are from the US Census Bureau’s 2018 1-year American Community Survey (ACS). Countywide 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.

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CPI San Diego
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Written by CPI San Diego

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