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Housing Affordability Drives San Diego’s Shrinking Middle Class

A map showing relative costs of living between San Diego and its peer cities.

Credit: San Diego Regional Economic Development Corporation

Above: A map showing relative costs of living between San Diego and its peer cities.

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More than 1 million San Diegans can’t afford to live in the county, according to findings from the Center on Policy Initiatives. The San Diego Regional Economic Development Corporation trumpeted the figure last month as one of three economic “pain points” threatening the local economy.

But what does it mean to not make enough money to live in San Diego, since these San Diegans clearly do?

“Day-to-day that means families are moving in together,” said KPBS wealth and poverty reporter Amita Sharma, who has been investigating the state’s shrinking middle class. “Some who are very desperate are living in their cars, living in vans.”

RELATED: San Diego Businesses Point To Looming Economic ‘Pain Points’

The CPI study was based on a self-sufficiency standard, which is higher than the federal poverty threshold. The CPI metric took into account housing, food, transportation, childcare, medical expenses and taxes. A single adult would need to earn $27,942 a year to make end meets, according to CPI, or about $13.23 an hour.

The EDC found San Diego has the second-highest median home price among major metropolitan areas.

"This means San Diegans spend a much greater proportion of their incomes on housing than the national average, leaving less income available for other necessities including food, transportation and retirement," the EDC wrote in its report.

Sharma described some families as living on the edge before deciding to leave San Diego for lower cost states. One woman left after she and her husband worked a total of four jobs to afford a duplex in Encinitas.

“She was living in constant economic stress because if the rent went up even by $50 a month, it would break the family bank,” Sharma said.

Businesses are having trouble finding enough skilled workers, especially in high-cost regions like San Diego. The EDC found highly-desired science and technology graduates could make more even in pricey cities like Seattle and San Francisco after adjusting for housing costs and expected wages.

RELATED: San Diego Small Business Wages Lag Behind

Peter Brownell, the research director for CPI, said businesses have an “obligation” to pay workers more as they get more successful. But while some companies do share profits with employees, most don’t, Sharma said.

“And we’re seeing evidence of that,” she said. “We’re seeing a lack of good-paying jobs.”

As part of our weeklong coverage of the threats to San Diego's economy, Sharma joins KPBS Midday Edition on Thursday with more about what’s happened to California’s middle class.


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