Making Ends Meet

A new report looking at how much it costs to raise a family in
California has come to this conclusion: a lot.
A new report looking at how much it costs to raise a family in California has come to this conclusion: a lot. The report by the California Budget Project, a nonpartisan policy analysis group, found that to support a family with two children and one or two working adults, the income for the household needs to be two to three times the state’s minimum wage of $6.75 an hour.

What that means is that California families, even the ones that aren’t technically considered poor, are struggling. While it’s hard to know exactly how many are having financial difficulties, at least 1.8 million California families have incomes below twice the federal poverty level – or a little more than $38,000 a year for a family of four, said Jean Ross, executive director of the California Budget Project.

Even those with “good jobs” that pay more are having trouble paying the rent, paying for health care, paying taxes and other costs.

“They’re financially strapped,” Ross said. “You can be functionally poor without being officially poor.”

The organization released the report, “Making Ends Meet: How Much Does It cost to Raise a Family in California?” this week. It looks at what families need to reach a modest standard of living – not quite a bare bones existence, but also one that doesn’t allow for any savings to cover vacations, retirement or higher education or even emergencies. The report also assumes that most of these families rent their homes instead of own them.

For those with jobs that don’t pay enough, such as many service sector employees, getting creative with what little financial security they have is the only way to make ends meet.

“They’re living in smaller housing units than they’d perhaps prefer; they’re going without health coverage,” Ross said. “In a lot of areas, you have families where they’ll stagger work hours so one parent’s home to watch kids during the day so they don’t have to pay for child care. You have some people living on credit card debt.”

The report breaks the state into 10 regions with similar costs of living and estimates how much single adults and families with two children and one or two working parents need to earn to cover health care, food, transportation, tax, housing and utilities, and miscellaneous costs. The major costs vary from family to family.

The most expensive region is the San Francisco Bay area, which includes Santa Clara County, where a family of four with two working parents needs to earn $79,946 a year.

San Benito County, included in the Central Coast region, is also on the high side, with the same family of four needing to bring in $68,470 a year.

The least expensive region, according to the report, is in Northern California and encompasses 10 counties – Mendocino, Humboldt, Siskiyou, Lassen, Lake, Trinity, Sierra, Plumas, Modoc and Del Norte. There, a family of four with two working parents needs to earn $57,325 a year to make ends meet.

Andrew Sullivan, a homeowner who lives with his girlfriend in Gilroy and their 17-month-old baby and part-time with her 12-year-old child, spends $800 a month on center-based childcare.

“That’s my major expense right there – daycare for my kid,” he said.

While the report doesn’t compare the cost of living in California to the rest of the nation “we know that many, if not most of the nation’s most expensive housing markets are in California,” Ross said.

And it’s housing that eats up the bulk of household income.

About 15 to 20 years ago, people could qualify to get into single family homes with a maximum earning of $20,000, said Jack Foley, spokesman for South County Housing, a nonprofit housing developer Santa Clara and San Benito counties that specializes in affordable housing. Now, Foley said, South County Housing has a project where a family can earn $100,00 a year and still qualify for “below-market-rate” housing.

“The biggest obstacle (to buying a home) is cost. There’s no question about it,” Foley said. “Most average wage earners have just been priced right out of the market because wages haven’t kept up with the skyrocketing housing market.”

Those who got into the market years ago have a leg up on those who are still renting, but they feel the high cost of living in other areas still.

“It’s high and our wages aren’t going up to match,” said Mora Taormino, a bus driver with the Gilroy Unified School District. The mother of three grown children who all live out of state says her major costs are fuel, groceries and health care. Her solution? “Better wages, lower health care costs.”

Those high costs can take their toll on families.

“There’s a variety of different strains. Housing is a huge issue for many of our families,” said Cecilia Clark, communications manager for Community Solutions, which provides Santa Clara and San Benito County families with an array of services from counseling to housing. “Affordable housing is difficult to attain here – affordable housing that’s safe, not overcrowded,”

“Oftentimes our families have to choose between buying food, paying the PG&E bill or paying rent and finding they have no money left over for transportation,” she added.

The purpose of the study, Ross said, is to help these struggling families by getting policy makers, elected officials, public agencies and others to look at how public programs and policies should be targeted toward California families.

To see the report in its entirety, visit www.cbp.org/2005/0509mem.pdf. To reach Community Solutions, call (408) 842-7138 or visit www.communitysolutions.org. To reach South County Housing, call (408) 842-9181 or visit www.scounty.com.

Sacramento Co.

A: $24,151, $11.61

B: $50,272, $24.17

C: $47,834, $23

D: $66,963, $16.10

Santa Clara Co.

A: $27,901, $13.41

B: $62,969, $30.27

C: $55,740, $26.80

D: $79,946, $19.22

San Benito Co.

A: $26,410, $12.70

B: $51,643, $24.83

C: $51,081, $24.56

D: $68,470, $16.46

Los Angeles area

A: $24,668, $11.86

B: $54,019, $25.97

C: $49,322, $23.71

D: $69,670, $16.75

A: Single adult, amount needed to make ends meet annually, per hour.

B: Single parent, two children, amount needed to make end meet annually, per hour.

C: Two parents (one working), two children, amount needed to make ends meet annually, per hour.

D: Two working parents, two children, amount needed to make ends meet annually, per hour.

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