The Center on Policy Initiatives has released new numbers on San Diego County residents struggling to earn enough to cover the basic cost of living.

Three out of 10 San Diego households don’t earn enough to cover those living expenses, even though more than half of those homes have at least one full-time worker, according to the study released today.

That’s 229,195 households that can’t make ends meet.

“That’s a tremendous number,” said Jason Everitt, an analyst for the left-leaning think tank. The center has calculated the cost of basic living in San Diego in the past, but today’s study was the first time it has quantified the number of households earning less than that amount.

“We’ve always known San Diego is expensive, but we didn’t know how many people couldn’t afford to live here,” he said. “Those people are doing things like selling off their property just to make it.”

For its analysis, the center used a formula to determine the minimum income a household would need to be “self-sufficient.” That standard differs from federal poverty guidelines, which Everitt said do not accurately reflect how much a family really needs to cover basic costs.

The federal government considers single adults to be in poverty if they earn less than $11,131 a year. Unlike the federal formula for determining poverty, which is based on the cost of food, the center’s formula accounted for local market costs for transportation, housing, healthcare and child care, among other things. It found that a single person would need $27,733 to cover basic needs, while a family of three would need $52,560 for self-sufficiency, compared to the federal poverty figure of $17,268 for the same family.

The findings are especially troublesome, Everitt said, because more than half of those households have at least one full-time worker, and 88 percent have residents working at least part-time.

“In San Diego, even if you put in a full day’s work five days a week, you can still live in poverty, and that should be shocking to everyone,” Everitt said. “We hope to raise the issue that wages have not kept pace with increases in the cost of living, which is a very serious issue for politicians to take on.”

And in case you missed it, check out this special report by my colleagues Kelly Bennett and Dagny Salas, who investigated the difficulty poor San Diego residents face in accessing county social services like food stamps and welfare.


Rob Davis was formerly a senior reporter for Voice of San Diego.

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