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Poverty, Income and Earnings in North County (2018)

Regional Poverty, Income & Earnings Reports  ·  September 2020 

Analysis of Regional Data from the US Census Bureau 2018 American Community Survey

Key Findings

Poverty in North County: One in ten people (9.6%) living in the North County region of San Diego County lived in poverty in 2018. The poverty rate varied across North County cities from 5.7% in Carlsbad to 14.9% in Escondido.

Children in Poverty: Children were particularly likely to live in households with below-poverty incomes throughout the region, especially in Vista and Escondido.

Low Pay in Key Industries: Among the industries employing the most North County residents, the lowest incomes were in the Accommodation and Food Services industry, which is made up primarily of hotels and restaurants.

Poverty and Economic Hardship

In 2018 the San Diego North County region was home to more than 83,000 men, women, and children who lived below the federal poverty level (FPL), out of a total population of 867,340 in the region. The North County region’s poverty rate is 2.2 percentage points lower than the overall countywide poverty rate. Nevertheless, about 22% of the total number of people experiencing poverty in the county lived in North County. With the exception of San Marcos and Carlsbad, cities’ in North County had higher poverty rates in 2018 than they did before the recession of 2007-2008. Considering the recessionary impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, people who were already the most economically vulnerable have a very high likelihood of suffering the bulk of the negative effects of the current recession.

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.

Generally, poverty has been slightly declining over time in North County. The percentage of people living in economic hardship declined slightly in 2018 to 25.6%, a drop of a mere 0.6 of a percentage point from the previous year. Escondido has the highest percentage of people living in economic hardship among North County cities, with 38.6% of Escondido’s residents experiencing economic hardship. Vista has the second highest rate with 36.6% of Vista’s residents experiencing economic hardship.

Youth & Senior Poverty in North County

The youth poverty rate in North County slightly increased to 11.6% in 2018, from 11.0% in 2017.  This rate is higher than the youth poverty rate for San Diego County, and the City of San Diego.

The senior poverty rate, or poverty rate for individuals  65 and over, worsened in the North County region from 2017 to 2018, growing from 7.8% to 8.3%.  This increase represents 997 more seniors experiencing poverty.  It highlights the need for additional income-based resources to support our senior age individuals.

Over the same period, the rate of senior economic hardship decreased by 2 percentage points, which represents a decrease of 3,408 senior age individuals experiencing economic hardship. This suggests that senior age residents who previously had incomes just below 200% of the FPL were aided by trends that lifted them above this threshold. In contrast, senior age people whose incomes were slightly above 100% of the FPL experienced a decrease in income during the same period pushing them into even greater economic disadvantage.

Racial Poverty & Income Disparities

Looking at poverty across racial demographics, the Latinx community had the largest number of individuals living in poverty, while Native American residents had the highest percentage of people living in poverty in North County. Native American residents had the highest poverty rate, with one out of five Native American residents living in households below the Federal Poverty Line. The Native American and Latinx poverty rates are triple and double, respectively, that of their White counterparts, and highlights the continued racial inequities within the San Diego North County region.

White residents had the second largest population living in poverty but had the lowest percentage, by race, of residents living in poverty. Since 2007, the percentage of Asian Americans living in poverty has increased from 4.1% to 8.1% in the North County region. The Black community in North County saw the largest poverty rate increase among all racial groups since 2007, from 7.8% to 14.9%. However, Black residents of North County were less likely to live in poverty than Black residents of San Diego County overall. This illustrates the continued need for policies that directly address racial disparities in income and earnings.

In North County, disparities in median household income across races persist similarly to general trends within San Diego County. Half of Native American households in the North County region made less than $52,945, while half of all White households were making more than $92,483. Latinx residents also have substantial income disparity in the region, with 50% of residents making less than $63,175, while generally 50% of all households in the region were making $85,114 or more. Even when comparing median household incomes of Black residents to Latinx residents, an income disparity exists.

Income Inequality in North County

Since 2010, the share of income going to the bottom 40% of income earners has been decreasing, while the top five percent of income earners experienced the most growth in the share of income going to them. In 2018, the top five percent of income earners received 20% of all the income in the region. This high and rising gap between the income of the highest and lowest income earners in this region signals that access to life sustaining wages is declining for low income earners. As a result, the experiences and risks of the lowest and highest income earners is becoming more dissimilar, which has negative implications for community cohesion and sustainability.

In 2018, median income for the North County region was $85,114, which is slightly more than the median household income for San Diego County. However, household incomes vary by city, 50% of Escondido households have annual incomes below $62,319 while 50% of Encinitas households have annual incomes above $113,175. Meaning Escondido residents’ median income is a little more than half (55%) the median income of Encinitas residents. The very large disparities in income and poverty across cities in the North County region means that elected officials face very different resources and needs depending on the city they govern.

Rent Burden

Rent burdened households are those that spend more than 30% of their income on rent. In North County 58% percent of households are rent burdened. This is slightly higher than the equivalent statistic for the City of San Diego (55%) and for San Diego County (57%) as a whole. As both homeownership and rents are rising faster than income in the region, housing insecurity will be a continued and increasingly dire issue if efforts are not made to build more affordable housing, curtail rising rents and protect renters.

Escondido has the highest percentage of rent burdened households. In Escondido 64% of households experienced rent burden in 2018. While the percentage of households experiencing rent burden is lower in Oceanside (61%), as the largest city in the region Oceanside is also home to the greatest number of households experiencing rent burden in the region (15,436).

Low Pay in Key Industries

In 2018, 423,410 residents were employed in the North County region. The manufacturing industry employed the largest proportion of North County residents, followed closely by the healthcare and social services industry. The lowest paying industries were Accommodation & Food Service, followed by Other Services, which includes many domestic workers.


Except where otherwise noted, data are from the US Census Bureau’s 2018 1-year American Community Survey (ACS). Data on the Public Use Micro-statistical Area (PUMA) 5-year estimates will not be available until January 2021.

Study Area: We also used Census data available separately for most cities of over 65,000 population, and limited 2018 estimates available for cities or places with population between 20,000 and 65,000 (e.g., Encinitas, Carlsbad, Escondido, Oceanside, San Marcos, Vista)

Public Use Micro-statistical Area (PUMA): 07301, 07303, 07304, 07305, 07306, and 07309 (2010 areas); 08113, 08114, 08115, and 08116 (2000 areas). Inclusive of: Camp Pendleton, Oceanside, Vista, Carlsbad, San Marcos, Escondido, Encinitas, Solana Beach, as well as areas surrounding or between these cities and places.

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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