• Search
    Center on Policy Initiatives

San Diego County Food Systems

Food is an essential part of our everyday lives yet the system which brings food to our tables is highly inequitable. The food system includes producing, processing, packaging, transporting, preparing, consuming and disposing of food waste. Much of the focus on improving food systems has centered on environmental and resource scarcity concerns resulting from food production, processing and distribution and has ignored the lack of livable wages and the prevalence of unsafe working conditions in the food system. The focus on solving the threat of inadequate food availability often ignores that due to economic factors there are already people experiencing food scarcity despite a food system that currently produces adequate amounts of food and in fact has a great deal of food waste.

In 2017, we published a report on Employment and Wages in the San Diego County Food Systems that provides baseline measures of the conditions facing workers in the food system. The food system currently employs 196,837 individuals in San Diego County, making up 13.24% of total employment (2019 data). The number of food system jobs has grown by 37.3% since 2001, at more than double the rate of all jobs in the county. Despite making up a large portion of the food system workforce, low-income residents and people of color have inadequate access to healthy foods. One reason for this is that people working in the food system sector receive significantly lower wages compared to workers overall. In San Diego County average annual wages for all jobs is $58,179 while average annual wages for food systems jobs is $24, 693.

The charts below show the average annual earnings for the highest and lowest paid occupations in the San Diego food systems.

Figure 1:

Figure 2:

According to Figure 1, food service managers had the highest average wages during 2018 ($68,380), while chefs & head cooks experienced the largest amount of wage growth (11%) between 2017 & 2018.

According to Figure 2, dishwashers have the lowest average wages ($25,240), which are just above the federal poverty threshold for families of four ($25,100). Other similarly low paying food occupations are retail food preparers and servers, fast food workers, and restaurant hosting staff.

The data for the charts above and the data mapped below are based on two different data sets (Bureau of Labor Statistics and U.S. Census Bureau). The U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates report data at the census tract level which allows us to map a smaller, more defined geographical area. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports data at the metropolitan statistical area, a large geographical area, meaning we are not able to create detailed maps with that data that enable us to compare dynamics between communities. A limitation of Census data is that the Census Bureau classifies some food occupations under larger categories that encompass occupations outside of the food system. For example, grocery workers are included in the Census retail trade jobs  category and truck drivers who transport food are included under transportation and warehousing jobs , among others. Due to the limitations of the available data at the census tract level the maps below focus on agriculture, fishing, & forestry workers; and food service and preparation workers, as defined by the Census.

We are all connected to the food systems but policies that impact the food systems are not distributed equally. The maps below help us identify the areas where food workers are concentrated and their median wages. The last map shows the locations of food jobs and food institutions across the county.

San Diego County Food Workers' Labor Force:

Agriculture, fishing, & forestry workers; and food service and preparation workers

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, 2013-2017 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates

The map displays the percentage of workers employed in the main industries in the food system (Agriculture, Fishing, & Forestry Workers; and Food Service and Preparation Workers) by census tract. Census tracts shaded in lighter colors are those with a lower percentage of food workers in the labor force. The lightest shade represents census tracts where 0 to 5% of all working people work in agriculture, fishing, food preparation or service. The areas highlighted in deep blue have the highest share of agriculture, fishing, food preparation or service workers living there. In these census tracts people working in agriculture, fishing, food preparation or service sectors make up at least 15% of all workers in their area.
Our country, our state and our region have histories of targeting some types of workers for inclusion and others for exclusion in labor policies. For example, domestic workers and farm workers were excluded from most progressive era labor protections. These decisions disproportionately impact people of color and as a result of residential segregation this also means that some neighborhoods and regions are more likely to suffer or benefit from these decisions. Having maps that show us the particular parts of our cities and our region where food system workers live versus where they work allows us to see who benefits and who suffers when policies exclude or include different workers within the food system.

The box above the map displays the active layers and allows you to activate and deactivate additional layers on the map. To activate a layer, click the box directly to the left of the layer’s title. You can also move the box if it is covering portions of the map you want to view. Zoom in by clicking the + icon and zoom out by clicking the - icon, located on the left side of the map.

To view information for specific areas of San Diego more closely, type in an address of interest (e.g., your current location) in the search bar at the top of the map and zoom out to see the area you are interested in. Clicking on any portion of the map will cause an information bubble to appear. Clicking on the arrows at the top of the information bubble will display information about all jobs in that census tract.

Clicking the house icon will return the map to the original location.

San Diego County Food Workers' Earnings

Agriculture, fishing, & forestry workers; and food service and preparation workers

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, 2013-2017 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates

This map shows agriculture, fishing, food preparation and service workers’ median wages and the percentage of households living with poverty level income by census tract. In addition to showing the median income for these workers by census tract, you can opt to have the map show either:

1) The percentage of all households in that census tract where household earnings are below the federal poverty level (FPL), or 

2) The percentage of households in a census tract where median earnings are below 200% of the FPL, or  

3) The percentage of households where at least one worker works full-time and where the household’s income falls below the FPL.

Agriculture, Fishing, Food Preparation and Service Workers' Median Income: The higher the median wages for workers in that census tract the larger the blue circle will be. The largest circles represent census tracts where these food workers’ median earnings are above $50,000. This threshold is roughly equal to 200% of the federal poverty income threshold for families of four, which is a commonly used measure of poverty in high-cost areas including the entire state of California. There are only seven census tracts (1.11%) in San Diego County where agriculture, fishing, food preparation or service workers' median annual income exceed 200% of the federal poverty threshold for families of four. 

Poverty Measures: This map also shows the percentage of households living in poverty in the County of San Diego by census tract.  

Whether a household’s income is above the federal poverty level depends on the number of people in the family. The amount of income needed to support one person is very different from what a family of four needs. The United State government considers a single person to be poor if they have income of $12,140 or less per year. The US government classifies a family of four as living in poverty if the total income for the family is $25,100 or less per year.  

In high-cost areas like San Diego, both state and federal governments recognize that the federal poverty level is too low to capture accurately the number of people and families struggling to make ends meet. As a result, many programs to combat poverty classify people living with income below 200% of the FPL as living in poverty. 

For a family of four, 200% of the Federal Poverty Threshold is equal to income of at least $50,200 per year. A single person’s wages are 200% of the federal poverty level if they have income of $24,280 or less.  

Agriculture, fishing, food preparation and service workers’ make up 75% of food system workers in San Diego County and make up 10% of overall workers in the County. Many food workers are not paid enough to make ends meet. Clicking on the blue bubbles provides information about earnings and poverty for that census tract, showing that in a large portion of the census tract food workers median wages are significantly lower than the overall median wages in that area. Raising wages and working conditions in the food systems will have positive impacts for workers and those neighborhoods.

The box above the map displays the active layers and allows you to activate and deactivate additional layers on the map. To activate a layer, click the box directly to the left of the layer’s title. You can also move the box if it is covering portions of the map you want to view. Zoom in by clicking the + icon and zoom out by clicking the - icon, located on the left side of the map.

To view information for specific areas of San Diego more closely, type in an address of interest (e.g., your current location) in the search bar at the top of the map and zoom out to see the area you are interested in. Clicking on any portion of the map will cause an information bubble to appear. Clicking on the arrows at the top of the information bubble will display demographic information and poverty rates and median wages for that census tract.

Clicking the house icon will return the map to the original location.

San Diego County Food Facilities & Establishments

Source: Department of Environmental Health, Food, and Housing, San Diego County, Food Facility Permits, [date accessed: 04/05/2019] [https://data.sandiegocounty.gov/]

This map shows the San Diego County Department of Environmental Health’s data on the location of food processing, wholesale, and retail food facilities. Institutions distinguished in the map’s layers include healthcare facilities, schools, restaurants, grocery stores, food processors, and food wholesale distributors. Each of the layers has its own unique symbol to represent the type of establishment.

The maps show the food institutions along with the percentages of households living in poverty and unemployment rates in the County of San Diego. We can see what types of food establishments are located in areas with higher rates of poverty and see which areas have higher or lower paying jobs.

It’s important to understand where we get our food in the most basic sense, and the attributes about the communities surrounding them. As our food system continues to grow in production, processing, and distribution, it’s important to identify which communities will be impacted.

Along with identifying the institutions and establishments in certain areas users can refer to the charts at the top (Figure 1 and 2) to determine the quality of jobs in those areas. The maps layered over poverty data helps us identify low income communities that have inequitable access to food institutions.

The box above the map displays the active layers and allows you to activate and deactivate additional layers on the map. To activate a layer, click the box directly to the left of the layer’s title. You can also move the box if it is covering portions of the map you want to view. Zoom in by clicking the + icon and zoom out by clicking the - icon, located on the left side of the map.

To view information for specific areas of San Diego more closely, type in an address of interest (e.g., your current location) in the search bar at the top of the map and zoom out to see the area you are interested in. Clicking on a specific food location will bring up information about that food facility.

Clicking the house icon will return the map to the original location.

This page is still in development. If you have any comments or questions please fill out the survey below.

Related Research

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.

Making Ends Meet

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. That’s more than 269,000 households, and more than 1 million...