In a new report commissioned by San Diego Foundation and developed in partnership with the San Diego Regional Policy & Innovation Center, research shows that 11% of San Diego County residents – or 335,000 people – live below the federal poverty line ($24,860 or less annually for a family of four) due to a lack of self-sufficient wages and the high cost of housing, utilities, transportation and food in the region.

Our Region’s Greatest Disparities

“San Diego is a beautiful, diverse region, but not all residents experience the same quality of life, and the sobering data revealed in our report confirms that,” said Mark Stuart, President and CEO of San Diego Foundation. “This report helps us better understand the needs of San Diegans to attract more resources for just, equitable and resilient communities.”

The San Diego Foundation Economic Equity Report analyzed data from a variety of national and regional sources to zero in on the region’s greatest disparities, from housing and education to health care and life expectancy. Among the findings:

  • Wages and Housing Affordability: Nearly 35% of San Diego County residents struggle to make self-sufficient wages and 38% spend more than the recommended maximum of 30% of their income on housing.
  • Higher Education and the Skilled Worker Gap: Latinos/as make up 42% of the population between 18 and 24 but comprise only 37% of people who have at least started college in that age group, leaving thousands without the bachelor’s degrees needed to address the local skilled worker gap.
  • Health Equity: The average Black San Diegan is expected to live to 75, five years less than the average White San Diegan.
  • Immigration: San Diego County has the ninth highest immigrant population among U.S. counties; nearly 91,000 immigrants in San Diego County live in poverty – more than 4.5 times the population of Coronado.

True Cost of Living in San Diego

In October, San Diego was ranked as the most expensive metropolitan area by U.S. News & World Report. Researchers found that San Diego County’s total poverty figure – 335,000 residents – is greater than the population of 93% of other U.S. counties. Unfortunately, poverty is unevenly distributed by race.

“San Diego ranks amongst one of the costliest metropolitan areas in the country, but contrary to popular belief, San Diego’s population is not free of economic hardship,” said Daniel Enemark, Ph.D., Chief Economist with the San Diego Regional Policy & Innovation Center. “Distinct inequalities are evident across the board. Unfortunately, poverty, limited access to higher education, insufficient wages, and lack of homeownership are more common in the county than expected.”

When considering the cost of living, our picture of the need in San Diego County comes further into focus, with the most significant disparities experienced by Black and Latino/a San Diegans.

This has led to an increase in philanthropic need due to increased demand. In response to this increased need, San Diego Foundation and its donors granted a record $45 million to health and human services-oriented nonprofits from July 1, 2022, through June 30, 2023.

“This past year, San Diego Foundation and its donors had record health and human service-oriented grantmaking to local nonprofits that address cost of living issues, like emergency food and shelter, youth and child development programs, and workforce training,” said Pamela Gray Payton, Chief Impact & Partnerships Officer at San Diego Foundation.

“Our nonprofit partners are working hard to meet our region’s needs, but more government funding and philanthropic resources are needed to address the disparity and inequity throughout San Diego County.”

About the San Diego Economic Equity Report

In the report, researchers reviewed economic need in San Diego County and focused on areas of inequality. The report will demonstrate the need and attract state and national funding to the region.

Public data sources for this report include the U.S. Census’s American Community Survey; the California Department of Education; the County of San Diego’s Maternal, Child, and Family Health Services; the County of San Diego’s Health and Human Services Agency; and the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department, among others. Funding for the report was provided by San Diego Foundation.

Read the Report
Help Address Inequities for San Diegans