A third (33%) of working age families in San Diego County can’t make ends meet.


That’s more than 269,000 households, and more than 1 million individuals, living with incomes too low to cover basic expenses.

San Diego County’s poverty rate of 13.8% vastly undercounts the number of families living in economic insecurity. Fully a third of all households headed by people under age 65 have incomes below the cost of living in the region. Based on the costs of basic family budget items, the Self-Sufficiency Standard indicates the yearly income families need just to get by. The basic budget starts at almost $28,000 a year for a single adult, which would require an hourly wage of at least $13.23 if working full-time all year long. The budget grows with family size and differs according to the ages of children in the family. Self-Sufficiency is the ability to afford the bare-bones costs of living without public or private assistance. The calculation of the standard includes only no-frills items like housing, food, transportation, child care, healthcare, and taxes.

San Diego County Self-Sufficiency Standard vs Federal Poverty Level

1 Adult1 Adult + school age child1 Adult + preschooler + schoolage2 Adults + infant + preschooler2 Adults + preschooler + 2 schoolage
U.S. Poverty Thresholds *$12,331$16,337$19,096$24,036$28,286
Yearly income needed to live self-sufficiently in San Diego County$27,942$47,407$66,145$88,616$97,058
Hourly wage needed per adult to reach Self-Sufficiency Standard**$13.23$22.45$31.32$20.98 each$22.98 each

 *Families are officially in poverty when yearly income is below the threshold for the family size. This table shows just a few examples of family composition.
** These are the wages needed if the adults work full-time all year. Higher hourly rates are needed if working fewer hours.

San Diego County Self-Sufficiency Standard

–The no-frills costs of living without public or private assistance

HousingChild CareFoodTransportationHealth CareMiscellaneousTaxesChild Care Tax Credit (-)Child Tax Credit (-)Total Household Monthly Income NeedTotal Household Yearly Income Need
1 Adult$1,060$0$282$262$144$175$407$0$0$2,329$27,942
1 Adult+ school-age child$1,390$539$504$270$434$314$634($50)($83)$3,951$47,407
1 Adult + preschooler + school-age child$1,390$1,631$642$270$444$438$963($100)($167)$5,512$66,145
2 Adults+infant + preschooler$1,390$2,500$804$512$489$569$1,387($100)($167)$7,385$88,616
2 Adults+preschooler + 2 school-age child$2,021$2,170$1,050$512$533$629$1,524($100)($250)$8,088$97,058


Share of San Diego County families with incomes below Self-Sufficiency



Women earn 74 cents for every dollar men are paid in jobs throughout San Diego County. With a median annual income of $30,569, compared to $41,447 for men, households headed by women are most likely to fall below the Self-Sufficiency Standard.

The gender pay gap is larger in some major industries, such as tourism and service industries. Only in construction, where relatively few women are employed, do women tend to earn more than men.

Pay inequity: Median yearly earnings in San Diego County’s lowest-paying industries, for men and women

MenWomenWomen’s Pay Per $1 men’s pay
Median for all industries in county$41,447$30,569$0.74
Tourism (Hotels, restaurants, arts, entertainment, recreation)$21,016$16,245$0.77
Retail sales (All stores, online shopping, gas stations, other retail)$27,229$18,574$0.68
Construction (Construction of buildings, homes, roads, infrastructure)$36,685$41,902$1.14
Misc. services (Repairs, maintenance, cleaning, personal care, etc.)$31,101$17,600$0.57
Agriculture (Farming, forestry, fishing, mining)$22,267$17,740$0.80

Work and Self-Sufficiency

Work status of households with incomes below the Self-Sufficiency Standard

Working-age households in San Diego CountyTotal # in SD County# Below Standard% Below Standard
All households headed by someone under age 65806,193269,06833%
Households with at least one person working764,672237,33731%
Households with two or more people working433,644114,45726%
Households with at least one person working full-time, year-round626,618153,71125%

In some of San Diego County’s major industries, almost half of employees have incomes too low to live self-sufficiently.

Jobs that pay too little to cover basic expenses are concentrated in some of the largest industries in the region, including tourism (hotels, restaurants, and entertainment), other services, retail sales, construction. Agriculture has relatively few jobs in the region but less than half of the workers make enough to get by.

Industries with median earnings below the cost of living

San Diego County’s five
lowest-paying major industries
Workforce in region% Below Self-Sufficiency Standard



Retail Sales




Misc. Services





Methodology The Self-Sufficiency Standard was developed by Dr. Diana Pearce at the University of Washington. See http://depts.washington. edu/selfsuff/docs/CA2014_ methodology.pdf. To be consistent with 2015 American Community Survey data, we updated or adjusted the Self-Sufficiency Standard budget categories to reflect 2015 costs using Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Fair Market Rents (FMRs) and the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Consumer Price Index Urban for Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W). Hourly wages to meet the Self-Sufficiency Standard are calculated assuming adults work eight hours per day for 22 days per month and 12 months per year. We then combined the Self-Sufficiency Standard annual budgets with American Community Survey 2015 1-year Public Use Microdata for residents of San Diego County. Consistent with prior Self Sufficiency Standard methodology, we limited the analysis to households headed by non-disabled persons under the age of 65, which we refer to as “working-age households.” This report was published in January 2017, using the most recently available data, from 2015.