Struggling to Stay Afloat: The Real Cost Measure in California 2018
United Ways of California is glad to release Struggling to Stay Afloat: The Real Cost Measure in California 2018, our new statewide report on financial challenges for working families.
Unlike the official poverty measure which does not accurately account for local costs of living, the Real Cost Measure factors 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. Household budgets are easy to understand as they speak to the realities families have to deal with everyday: How much can I afford on school supplies for my children after my reduced work hours this summer? How do I replace my leaky roof when all my income has gone towards this month's mortgage payment? How am I going to give my daughter medical attention when the transmission in our car is broken? Through our interactive household budgets tool, we have the ability to better understand the hardships households face based on the county they live in.
In addition to a full report, the Real Cost Measure in California features interactive household budgets that calculates basic needs up to 20 persons in a household for each of California’s 58 counties, interactive maps at the county and neighborhood level, one-page county profiles, a waterfall dashboard to illustrate the income gap for a family of four, a public data set, and more.
Some of the key findings from The Real Cost Measure in California 2018 include:
- 1 in 3 Households Struggle: More than one in three California households (33%) do not earn sufficient income to meet basic needs
- Working hard, but not earning enough: Of the estimated 3.3 million households in California that fall below the Real Cost Measure, 9 in 10 have at least one working adult (when you control for households led by seniors and people with disabilities)
- Housing Burden: Nearly 4 in 10 households in California (38%) pay more than 30% of their income on housing. Households below the Real Cost Measure report spending from 45% of their income on housing to as much as 79% of their income for households below the federal poverty level.
- Households of all Ethnicities Struggle, but Rate is Higher for Latino and African Americans: Households of all Ethnicities Struggle, but Rate is Higher for Latino and African Americans: Latino households are more likely to struggle compared to other ethnic groups. Over 1.5 million Latino households are estimated to fall below the Real Cost Measure compared to over 1 million white households, 429,000, Asian American households, and 269,000 African-American households
- Single Mothers: Over 7 in 10 single mothers in California (72%) fall below the Real Cost Measure
- As Educational Increases, rate of Struggling Households Falls: Nearly three-fourths of California householders without a high school diploma or equivalent (71%) fall below the Real Cost Measure compared to those with at least a high school diploma (48%), at least some college education (33%), and at least a bachelor’s degree (15%)
- 6 in 10 Young Children Live in Struggling Households: 45% of households led by a person born outside the U.S. are below the Real Cost Measure, and that number rises to 63% when the householder is not a citizen. Households led by Latino non-citizens struggle most, especially if the household does not include someone over 14 years of age who speaks English well (82% below the Real Cost Measure).
- Seniors: Nearly 1 in 3 seniors struggle to meet basic needs (29%) according to the Elder Index, a measure by the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research
Thanks to a partnership with Benefit Kitchen, we have produced a new design for our household budgets. Calculated for the year 2016, 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.
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.
Our report methodology summarizes how the Real Cost Measure is calculated. We used 2014-2016 American Community Survey data from the United States Census Bureau for demographic analysis and based our household budgets on various data sources using 2016 data.
Public Data Set
To help users of the Real Cost Measure access and utilize data beyond the report, we are glad to offer a downloadable public data set in Microsoft Excel format. Please be so kind to attribute United Ways of California on report citations. Citation guidance is provide at the top of the document.
Interview and Speaker Requests
2015 Real Cost Measure Report
Click here to view our first report on the Real Cost Measure: Struggling to Get By: The Real Cost Measure in California 2015.