Struggling to Stay Afloat: The Real Cost Measure in California 2019
United Ways of California is pleased to release Struggling to Stay Afloat: The Real Cost Measure in California 2019, a new report on the financial challenges of working families.
Unlike the official poverty measure which primarily accounts for the cost of food, the Real Cost Measure incorporates the costs of housing, food, health care, child care, transportation and other basic needs to determine what it really costs to live in California.
At the heart of the Real Cost Measure are household budgets. With our interactive tool, anyone in California can identify the minimum threshold a household needs to survive by selecting the county they live in and selecting the age numbers of everyone in their household. Household budgets are easy to understand as they speak to the realities families have to deal with every day: can I afford to make my housing payment next September as my children need school supplies and vaccinations? How can I take my infant for her check-up when I can't afford the cost of gasoline to drive 30 miles?
In addition to an Executive Summary of key findings, the Real Cost Measure also includes a new historical Real Cost Measure Dashboard, interactive household budgets, interactive maps at the county and neighborhood level, one-page county profiles, a public data set, a methodology and more. Some of the key findings from the Real Cost Measure in California 2019 include:
- More than one in three California households—over 3.8 million families (37%)—do not earn sufficient income to meet basic needs
- Workers: Of the estimated 3.8 million households in California that fall below the Real Cost Measure, 9 in 10 have at least one working adult
- 6 in 10 Young Children Live in Struggling Households: 60% of households in California with children aged between 0 and 5 fall below the Real Cost Measure
- Housing Burden: Nearly 4 in 10 households in California (38%) pay more than 30% of their income on housing. Households living below the Federal Poverty Level can spend up to a staggering 76% of their income on housing.
- Households of all Ethnicities Struggle, but Rate is Higher for Latino and African Americans: Over 1.8 million Latino households are estimated to fall below the Real Cost Measure compared to over 1.2 million white households, 524,000 Asian American households, and 269,000 African-American households
- Single Mothers: Over 7 in 10 households led by single mothers in California (74%) fall below the Real Cost Measure
- As Education Increases, Rate of Struggling Households Falls: Nearly three-fourths of California householders without a high school diploma or equivalent (74%) fall below the Real Cost Measure, compared to those with at least a high school diploma (53%), those with at least some college education (38%), and those with at least a bachelor’s degree (18%)
- Foreign-Born Householders Have More Trouble Staying Afloat: Nearly one-third (30%) of California households led by a person born in the United States earn income below the Real Cost Measure. By contrast, 40% of households led by a person born outside the U.S. are below the Real Cost Measure, and that number rises to 62% when the householder is not a citizen.
Click here to read the Executive Summary for more key findings.
How this Real Cost Measure Release Different from Previous Releases?
Thanks to some new technological innovations and methodological updates, United Ways of California has developed some new techniques to calculate the Real Cost Measure. These include:
- The ability to calculate household budgets and demographic findings annually. For example, this Real Cost Measure release features household budgets and demographic results from 2014-2017 using single-year data. In our previous 2015 and 2018, the Real Cost Measure calculated household budgets for one base year, and used a three-year demographic file to identify populations struggling below the Real Cost Measure. This gives us the ability to produce Real Cost Measure results more efficiently on an annual basis. The key findings presented here, including our Executive Summary, are from 2017, the latest available.
- With our ability to produce the Real Cost Measure annually, United Ways of California decided not to issue a full-scale report this year. However, an Executive Summary of key findings, along with a robust set of interactive data tools will continue to be available.
- After receiving advice from our advisory committee, we have incorporated payroll taxes as part of our household budgets calculations. As the focus of the Real Cost Measure is on working families, the inclusion of payroll taxes better captures a household's living expenses.
- Our calculation for food costs now considers age-appropriate consumption patterns. For example, our household budgets now differentiate food cost estimates for young children from those of older children.
- A new Real Cost Measure Dashboard which provides interactive data and tools to explore the Real Cost Measure from 2014-2017.
As a result of the aforementioned adjustments to our methodology, results from this year's data release may not be comparable to previous Real Cost Measure releases.
Thanks to a partnership with Benefit Kitchen, we have produced a new design for our household budgets. Calculated for the year 2017, anyone in California can select the county they live in and enter the number of people in their household by age to determine the average costs of housing, food, heath care, child care, transportation and other basic needs.
Real Cost Measure Dashboard
To view all data findings of the Real Cost Measure in a historical context between 2014 and 2017, 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.
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.
These one-page county profiles display rich information on The Real Cost Measure such as the average household budget for two adults, one infant, and one school-aged child, and demographic information on educational attainment, single mothers, ethnicity, citizenship and more.
Public Data Set
To help users of the Real Cost Measure access and utilize data beyond the report, we are glad to offer two versions of our public data set: 1) an interactive dashboard of Real Cost Measure data from 2014-2017 and; 2) a downloadable public data set in Microsoft Excel format for 2017, the most recent available. Please be so kind to attribute United Ways of California on report citations. Citation guidance is provide at the top of the document.
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Previous Real Cost Measure Releases
In addition to this public release, United Ways of California also released two reports on the Real Cost Measure over the past several years.