The Real Cost Measure in California 2021
United Ways of California, in partnership with the 29 local United Ways throughout the state, is pleased to release Struggling to Move Up: The Real Cost Measure in California 2021, our fourth study on what it takes households to meet basic needs in California.
Unlike the official poverty measure which primarily accounts for the cost of food, the Real Cost Measure factors the costs of housing, health care, child care, transportation and other basic needs to reveal what it really costs to live in California. Some of the primary findings from The Real Cost Measure in California 2021 include:
- Nearly one in three California households—over 3.5 million families (33%)—do not earn sufficient income to meet basic needs
- Struggling Households Work: Of the estimated 3.5 million households in California that fall below the Real Cost Measure, 97% have at least one working adult.
- Child Care Costs Can Be Even More Expensive Than Housing for Many Families: In Fresno County, the annual cost of child care for a family with two adults, one pre-schooler and one school-aged child can reach $14,429 versus $19,740 in Orange County.
- Over Half of Young Children Live in Struggling Households: 54% of households in California with children younger than six-years-old fall below the Real Cost Measure.
- Households of All Races Struggle, but Is Highest for Latino and Black Families: Over 1.7 million Latino households (or 52% of them) are estimated to not earn enough to get by, compared to over 1.06 million white households (21%); 481,618 Asian American households (28%); 259,516 Black households (41%); and 13,592 Native American/Alaska Native households (39%).
- Less Education Results in Greater Struggles: Nearly 7 in 10 California households without a high school diploma or equivalent (68%) fall below the Real Cost Measure, compared to those with at least a high school diploma (47%), those with at least some college education (35%), and those with at least a bachelor’s degree (16%).
- Single Mothers: Over 7 in 10 households led by single mothers in California (71%) fall below the Real Cost Measure.
- Foreign-Born Households Have More Trouble Meeting Basic Needs: Thirty-six percent of households in California that are led by a person born outside the U.S. are below the Real Cost Measure, a figure which rises to 59% when the household is led by someone without U.S. citizenship. Meanwhile, only 26% of households led by a person born in the U.S. earn income below the Real Cost Measure.
Please note a previous version of this study did not properly account for child care costs in San Bernardino County. The study's findings have been finalized to reflect that change.
Real Cost Measure Dashboard
To view all data findings of the Real Cost Measure in a historical context between 2014 and 2019, we have built an interactive dashboard featuring one-year estimates in one interactive tool: the Real Cost Measure Dashboard. Here you can view what it takes for a family below the Real Cost Measure to make ends meet, additional county profiles, interactive maps and more.
Household Budgets Calculator
Our household budgets calcuator contains approximately 1,600 budgets across California's 58 counties, up to 21 adults in a household. Here, you can select the county you live in, enter the ages of everyone in your household and determine the amount of income it takes to meet basic needs, the Real Cost Measure.
We are glad to offer interactive maps at the county and neighborhood level. These interactive maps give us the ability to view what the Real Cost Measure looks like throughout California, in addition to housing burden (the percentage of families pay at least 30% of their income on housing), and median household income.
State, Region, and County Profiles
Our new one-page state, region and county profiles provide rich information on how California communities fare with the Real Cost Measure. Here, you will find information on the number of households below the Real Cost Measure, who is struggling and what it takes for three different family types to reach the Real Cost Measure.
Public Data Set
We are glad to offer a free public data set to help those seeking more data on the Real Cost Measure in California. If you decide to use any of the findings from the Real Cost Measure, please be so kind as to provide us proper attribution. Citation: Struggling to Move Up: The Real Cost Measure in California 2021. United Ways of California. July 2021. https://www.unitedwaysca.org/realcost.
Interview and Speaker Requests
To schedule an interview with one of the report authors or to inquire about local speaking opportunities on the Real Cost Measure, please contact Beylah Marks at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you are a member of the media and would like to schedule a call to discuss the Real Cost Measure, please click on the Media Request button below.
Previous Real Cost Measure Releases
United Ways of California has released three previous versions of the Real Cost Measure in California. Please note that in 2018, United Ways of California incorporated payroll taxes, child care tax credits and incorporated the Low Cost Food Plan by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for more robust household budget calculations. As a result, studies before 2019 will not reflect those changes. Click on the cover images below to learn more.