September 2012

Earnings down as wages lag behind costs in San Diego region

Census data shows more than a third of County living in economic hardship

Sept. 20, 2012  – Across most industries in San Diego County, the spending power of the average paycheck is dropping, new census data confirm. Inflation-adjusted earnings decreased in 10 of the region’s 15 largest industries, compared to 2007, and more people fell into poverty in 2011.

More than a third of San Diego County residents lived in economic hardship in 2011, with half of those families in outright poverty, according to an analysis by the Center on Policy Initiatives of countywide data released today by the U.S. Census Bureau.

“Too many working people are living in poverty, and middle-class families are falling behind as their buying power shrinks,” said Corinne Wilson, lead researcher on the CPI analysis. “It’s time our local industries take responsibility for providing good wages that give their employees a decent quality of life.”

Among other key findings:

  • Of the 462,269 people living below the federal poverty line, 117,408 were employed and 137,084 were children.
  • Black and Latino families and women continue to bear the brunt of poverty and low incomes in the County.
  • On average, all households lost $2,337 in purchasing power from 2010 to 2011, when the midpoint of household income throughout the County dropped to $59,477.
  • 136,249 people who worked full-time, year-round did not have health insurance in 2011, adding substantially to their living costs.

The statistics describe in cold terms the daily struggle lived by many San Diegans:

  • Leonor tried to retire at age 65, but couldn’t support herself and her 32-year-old, severely asthmatic son on $1,012 a month from Social Security. She’s back at work on the night shift at a hospital laundry, taking the bus because she can’t afford a car.
  • Lekakoko, a refugee from Congo and a new US citizen, was making just $10 an hour as a truck driver for a food company until he was laid off two weeks ago. He’s attending nursing school, and he and his wife are both searching for work to support their three young children.
  • An IT specialist, Carol is earning a third of her former pay working for a clinic, and can’t afford health insurance or car registration and insurance.
  • Hilda is a single mother making $9.30 an hour as a janitor. She worries about her two sons because she has no health coverage for them and her work schedule means she’s never home evenings.


The data for counties and metropolitan areas is from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. National data from the survey were released last week.

Sign up to get CPI updates and find out how you can get involved in the fight for economic justice in The San Diego region.