United Way

Struggling to get by

Struggling to Get By: The Real Cost Measure in California 2015 is a new financial stability report that measures the real cost of living in California’s communities.

Struggling to Get By introduces the Real Cost Measure, a basic needs budget approach to better understand the challenges facing California households. A basic needs budget approach is intuitive and easy for most people to understand, as it is composed of things all families must address such as food, housing, transportation, childcare, out of pocket health expenses, and taxes. A basic needs budget approach takes into account different costs of living in different communities, and also conveys a better sense of the hardship for families with income below the basic needs budget level as it invokes the notion of tradeoffs between competing needs—if you have an inadequate level of income, do you sacrifice on food, gas, or childcare?

Among the questions Struggling to Get By seeks to answer are: What is the true cost of living for struggling households? What do we know about these households and the challenges they face everyday? What do their family configurations look like? How many are led by one or more working adults, and more.

In answering these questions, Struggling to Get By explores the Real Cost Measure through different lenses. At the geographic level, we conduct “apples to applies” comparisons among counties, regions and neighborhoods (through public use microdata areas). We also discuss challenges facing specific households such as single mothers, households with young children, households of color and seniors.

Key Findings

Some of the Key Findings from Struggling to Get By include:

  • One in three California households (31%) do not have sufficient income to meet their basic costs of living. This is three times the proportion officially considered poor in California, according to the Federal Poverty Level.
  • Households of color are disproportionately likely to have inadequate incomes. 51% of Latino households and 40% of African American households have incomes below the Real Cost Measure. This is followed by Asian American households (28%) and white households (20%).
  • 60 percent of households led by a noncitizen struggle to make ends meet. By contrast, 1 in 4 native-born and 36% of naturalized American citizens are below the Real Cost Measure.
  • Just over one-half of households with children under the age of six (51%) fall below the Real Cost Measure.
  • Nearly 2 in 3 (64%) householders maintained by single mothers have incomes below the Real Cost Measure. In contrast, just one-fourth of married couples with children (25%) are below the Real Cost Measure.
  • Two-thirds (68%) of householders with less than a high school education have incomes below the Real Cost Measure. That number falls to 13% for those with at least a Bachelor’s degree.
  • Struggling householders spend over 50% of their income on housing, and families living below the Federal Poverty Level can spend as much as 80% of their income on housing.
  • Two full-time, minimum wage jobs are not enough to sustain a family of four. Yet, two-person, two-child households with two full-time, minimum wage earners earn $33,280 in gross income still fall below the Real Cost Measure by $10,000 to $30,000, depending on where they live.
  • Struggling to Get By also uses the Elder Index refined by researchers at the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research and the Insight Center for Community Economic Development to take an in-depth look at senior-led households. Despite seniors’ different needs and work-force participation, Struggling to Get By finds that a similar share—almost 1 in 3 (31%) are struggling.

Visit the ineractive map page HERE.

Read the executive summary HERE.

Read the entire report HERE.

Our Focus

Early Childhood Literacy

Financial Stability

Homelessness and Hunger

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