The food system is a critical part of San Diego’s economy, touching the daily life of every resident of the county. The system that brings food from farms to plates is complex and collaborative, involving many aspects that consumers never see, such...
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.
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.