Struggling to Get By: The Real Cost Measure in California 2015
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 every day? 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 apples” 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.
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.
Proceeds from the ebook will help support United Ways of California's mission to improve the health, education and financial results for low-income children and families by enhancing and coordinating the advocacy and community impact work of California’s United Ways.
To help visualize the hardships households throughout California face, we have created two series of maps to reveal the number of households below the Real Cost Measure, the percentage of households below the Real Cost Measure, the Federal Poverty Level, median household earnings and housing burden greater than 30% of a household's gross income.
Real Cost Budgets
In addition to the Real Cost Measure, we also created Real Cost Budgets to reflect annual household needs at the county level. These household budgets, calculated for 2012, include the cost of housing, child care, food, health care, transportation, 10% miscellaneous expenses, tax credits and taxes.
As part of our support materials for Struggling to Get By: The Real Cost Measure in California 2015, United Ways of California is glad to provide county profiles to reveal how local communities fare with the Real Cost Measure.
Public Data Set
We are glad to offer a free public data set to help those studying and serving struggling households better understand the hardships they experience. If you decide to use any of the findings from Struggling to Get By, please be so kind as to provide us the proper attribution.
Interview and Speaker Requests
To schedule an interview with one of the report authors or to inquire about local speaking opportunity on Struggling to Get By, please contact Sheila Hoyer, Program Assistant at United Ways of California, at 877.355.8922 x6 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.