Making Ends Meet: How Much Does It Cost to Raise a Family in California?
This CBP analysis assesses how well California's economy is meeting the needs of workers and their families. Making Ends Meet provides detailed estimates of family budgets in each of California's 58 counties and also discusses some of the key challenges that individuals and families face in affording basic expenses.
Read the full report (PDF): Making Ends Meet: How Much Does It Cost to Raise a Family in California?
More than three years since the end of the Great Recession in California, workers and their families still face a difficult economy. Unemployment remains high in many parts of the state, and many workers’ wages remain low relative to where they were prior to the recession. The current economic recovery in California has not reached large segments of workers, and covering basic expenses can be costly and a continuing challenge for families enduring the aftermath of the deepest economic downturn in generations. In particular, the high costs of housing, child care, and health care can present enormous hurdles for individuals and families.
A reasonable budget is not just about clothing, shelter, and food; it is also about meeting the demands of living and working in the modern economy. Accordingly, this analysis incorporates the costs of commuting and child care.
The basic family budgets presented in this report assume no assistance from public programs and no job-based benefits outside of earned income. While many services and supports are available to alleviate economic hardship and help Californians afford necessities, a chief goal of this analysis is to estimate what level of wages are needed to cover basic expenses.
 This report updates California Budget Project’s 2010 Making Ends Meet report. However, because of some differences in methodology, the results presented in this report are not comparable to those of the 2010 report.
How Much Does It Cost to Support a Family in California?
This report estimates the amount that families and single adults need to earn in order to achieve a modest standard of living. Statewide, this analysis estimates that:
The budget categories encompassed by the CBP's family budget analysis are: housing and utilities, child care, transportation, food, health care, miscellaneous expenses (including telephone service, housekeeping supplies, and other basic costs), and taxes. This report also assumes that in a two-parent household with only one adult working, the other adult takes care of child care needs.
Many families in California live on budgets that are smaller than those estimated in this analysis. This report assumes that families do not receive public services or job-based benefits that might alleviate the costs of certain budget items. For example, this report assumes that families bear the full cost of health insurance, even though many families have access to either job-based coverage – in which employers share the cost – or public health coverage programs, such as Medi-Cal. Other services not accounted for in this analysis include housing vouchers, subsidized child care, and nutritional assistance. Moreover, many households rely on family members or friends for child care assistance, relieving them of an otherwise costly expense. By estimating the income needed to meet basic needs without these and other kinds of assistance, the CBP’s family budget analysis examines what is required of families if they are to cover the costs of living on their own.
Is the Economy Meeting the Needs of California Families?
The family budgets presented in this analysis raise the question of whether California’s economy is meeting the needs of workers and their families. In many cases, the budgets require an hourly wage that is above what many workers actually make. In 2012, the median hourly wage in California was $19.07. For a single parent raising two children, the CBP estimates that the parent would need to earn at least $35.81 an hour – nearly twice the median wage – to fully cover the costs of housing, child care, transportation, health care, food, taxes, and other necessary expenses.
Wage stagnation and a tight job market are making it difficult for many families to achieve basic economic security. California lost 1.4 million jobs in the Great Recession, and wages and income have been slow to recover for many of the state's workers. In 2012, the wages of workers in the bottom fifth of the wage distribution were 5.9 percent below their value in 2006, the last full year before the recession began in California. Though this report assumes that wages are the sole source of a family’s income, even factoring in other possible sources of income shows that families are struggling relative to how they were faring before the recession began. The median household income – which includes sources of income besides wages – was $57,020 in 2012, nearly 10 percent below the $62,998 median in 2006, after adjusting for inflation.
The weakness in wages following the Great Recession compounds a longer-term erosion of the purchasing power of wages for workers in the bottom half of the earnings distribution. Between 1979 (the first year for which data are available) and 2012, the inflation-adjusted hourly wage fell by 12.7 percent for low-wage workers and by 2.6 percent for the median California earner (Figure 2).
 The statewide average cost-of-living estimates for California are based on the average cost of the items comprising the basic family budgets for each county, weighted by county population. The hourly wage needed to cover costs assumes a year-round worker working 40 hours per week.
 CBP analysis of US Census Bureau, Current Population Survey data. At the time of publication, full-year data for 2013 were not yet available.
Housing and Utilities
The affordability of housing has a major impact on the economic standing of California’s workers and their families. Housing is one of the largest family expenses, but these costs vary widely across California counties. This analysis assumes that a single individual rents a studio apartment. The fair market rent for this type of housing ranges from $456 a month in Modoc County to $1,126 a month in Orange County. A family with two children is assumed to live in a two-bedroom apartment, for which the rent ranges from $626 a month in Modoc County to $1,795 a month in Marin County, San Francisco County, and San Mateo County. Statewide, monthly housing costs represent a larger relative share of budgets for single adults than for families with children (Table 1). On average, housing costs represent 32.1 percent of the monthly budget for single adults compared to 19.4 percent for families with two working parents and two children.
The mortgage crisis and the Great Recession had a transformative effect on California’s housing market and its overall economy. However, these events did little to change the affordability of rental housing, and rent remains a significant burden for many households across the state. According to the US Census Bureau, a “burdened renter” is a household that spends at least 35 percent of its income on rent. In 2012, California was among the states with the highest burdened-renter rates in the nation, with 48.3 percent of households spending at least 35 percent of their income on rent. Moreover, nearly a third of households – 30.5 percent – spent at least half of their income on rent.
While the costs of rent may present challenges for families, owning a home is out of reach for many. In the years 2010 through 2012, California’s homeownership rate was the second-lowest of all states, averaging 54.9 percent. Even following the sharp decline in home values after the mortgage crisis, homeownership is far too costly for many families. According to the California Association of Realtors, as of the third quarter of 2013 slightly less than one-third of households in California could afford the median-priced home, compared to more than half of households nationwide. Within California, only 21 percent of households in the greater San Francisco Bay Area could afford the median-priced home, compared to 51 percent of households in the Inland Empire.
The cost of housing and utilities presented in this report is based on 2013 fair market rents (FMRs), which are published annually by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and estimate the cost of shelter and utilities, excluding telephone and internet service, in given areas. FMRs generally represent the 40th percentile of rents paid by recent movers in an area, meaning that the cost of 40 percent of rental housing is lower than the FMR and the cost of 60 percent is higher. HUD sets FMR values at the 50th percentile in some metropolitan areas where affordable housing can be difficult to obtain. Individuals and families seeking housing may not be able to locate units at the rents shown in this report, particularly in parts of the state where housing markets are tight.
The CBP’s analysis assumes that a single adult rents a studio unit, while single-parent and two-parent families rent two-bedroom apartments. This assumption follows the HUD guidelines established for Section 8 housing, which require one bedroom for every two occupants. Living in a two-bedroom apartment would require children, including older children of the opposite sex, to share a bedroom.
 Christine Flanagan and Mary Schwartz, Rental Housing Market Condition Measures: A Comparison of US Metropolitan Areas from 2009 to 2011 (US Census Bureau: April 2013). State estimates for 2012 are from a CBP analysis of US Census Bureau, American Community Survey data.
Child care allows parents to retain jobs and prepares children for success in school. It can also be a very costly family expense. This report assumes that single-parent and two-parent families have two children, one of whom is an infant requiring full-time child care and the other a school-age child requiring part-time care after school. Statewide, child care is estimated to cost an average of $1,108 a month (Table 2). The highest estimated child care cost is in San Francisco County ($1,507 a month), while the lowest estimate ($871 a month) is found in Colusa, Del Norte, Glenn, Imperial, Modoc, Shasta, Sierra, Sutter, Tehama, and Trinity counties.
Household spending on child care has been on the rise nationally since at least the mid-1980s. US Census Bureau data show that average child care expenditures for households with an employed mother rose from an inflation-adjusted $84 per week in 1985 to $143 a week in 2011, the last year for which data are available.
Many families rely on family, friends, or neighbors for child care, an option that can save parents thousands of dollars a year. For example, working parents are increasingly relying on grandparents for child care. In 1985, roughly 16 percent of children under the age of five received primary child care from grandparents. By 2011, that share had risen to more than 20 percent.
Still, many families continue to pay out of pocket for child care. In 2011, 31.9 percent of US families with an employed mother and children under age 15 made child care payments. For many of these families, especially for lower-income families, child care costs can be a significant share of the budget. Across the US, families living below the federal poverty line and with a mother present spent an average of 30.1 percent of their total monthly income on child care.
California offers child care assistance to eligible low-income families through the state’s child care and preschool programs. In addition, state and federal afterschool programs provide academic enrichment – as well as a safe place to go after school – for students in kindergarten through 12th grade. Demand for programs is high and space is limited, so many eligible families are on waiting lists.
Budget cuts in recent years have caused thousands of California children to lose access to care. Combined funding for California’s child care and state preschool programs fell by nearly 40 percent between 2007-08 and 2013-14, after adjusting for inflation. During the same period, the number of funded “slots” in child care programs and the state preschool program fell by more than 110,000.
This report assumes that single-working-parent families and two-working-parent families each have two children, one requiring full-time care and another requiring afterschool care. Child care costs are based on monthly estimates for full-time infant care and part-time care for school-age children in each county in 2009, adjusted for inflation using the Consumer Price Index (CPI) for child care.
This report assumes that care is provided in licensed family child care homes, rather than in licensed child care centers. Family-based child care typically costs less than that provided in a licensed center. Families with more or younger children will have higher child care costs, while those with fewer or older children will have lower costs. In some instances, neighbors or family members may provide child care at little or no cost, reducing the amount families spend for child care. In addition, some parents leave older children home alone due to the high cost of child care. This report assumes that the nonworking parent in two-parent families with one working parent provides child care and that these families do not pay for additional care.
 Lynda Laughlin, Who’s Minding the Kids? Child Care Arrangements, Spring 2011 (US Census Bureau: April 2013).
Statewide, monthly transportation costs an average of $325 for single adults and families relying on one worker and $566 for families with two working parents (Table 3). Transportation costs are based on the assumption that workers drive to work, and the monthly cost estimates are based on the average daily miles driven by adults in each county. Estimated transportation costs range from a low of $284 for a single-worker family and $494 for a two-working-parent family in Imperial County to a high of $393 for a single-worker family and $684 for a two-worker family in Mono County.
A large share of California workers commute to work by car. In 2012, nearly three-quarters (73.4 percent) of Californians age 16 or older drove alone to work, and a little more than one-tenth (11.1 percent) carpooled. However, only 5.2 percent of Californians age 16 or older took public transportation. Furthermore while lower-income households are more likely to use public transportation, only 7.0 percent of workers with annual earnings of less than $25,000 used public transportation in 2012, while nearly two-thirds (66.1 percent) drove alone to work.
Many families rely on car travel out of necessity. While public transportation may be less expensive than driving, it may not be convenient or reliable. In rural areas, transit service may be nonexistent or infrequent, or may not serve certain areas. In addition, the extra stops commonly involved in picking up or dropping off a child at day care, shopping for groceries, and running other errands makes it difficult for many parents to use public transportation.
This report assumes that each working adult uses a car for commuting to work and running errands. Actual transportation costs can vary widely for families depending on factors such as commute distances, whether the family owns a car, and whether the family uses public transportation.
Transportation costs are based on the 2013 Internal Revenue Service (IRS) mileage allowance of 56.5 cents per mile. The IRS mileage allowance factors in both national gas costs as well as wear and tear on the vehicle. Thus, the 56.5 cent-per-gallon cost will reflect costs above and beyond the cost of gas.
 CBP analysis of US Census Bureau, American Community Survey data.
The average food budget in California is $293 for a single adult, $627 for a single-parent family, and $866 for a two-parent family (Table 4). These estimates reflect a low-cost budget for a nutritious diet cooked at home as well as a conservative estimate of food eaten outside the home, such as at restaurants. Food costs are assumed to be the same across the state, though access to affordable nutritious food – and thus, actual food costs – can vary based on the region and even the particular neighborhood in which a family lives.
Though the food costs presented in these family budgets are lower than many other basic expenses – such as housing and health care – food insecurity is still a concern for many California families. A household is food insecure if a lack of resources makes it difficult to provide enough food for everyone in the household. In the three-year period ending in 2012, an average of 15.6 percent of California’s 13.1 million households at one point were food insecure. Nationally, the prevalence of food insecurity increased after the start of the Great Recession in 2007: 11.1 percent of households were food insecure in 2007, and that share jumped to 14.6 percent (equaling an additional 4.1 million households) in 2008.
This analysis estimates the cost of food consumed both at home and away from home. The estimates for food consumed at home are based on the June 2013 US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Low-Cost Food Plan. Estimates include the cost of food for a single adult as well as single-parent and two-parent families, each with two children. For food costs, the report assumes that the adults in the family are between the ages of 19 and 50 and that one child is age 1 and one child is between the ages of 6 and 8. The estimated cost of food consumed away from home is calculated using the 2012 Consumer Expenditure Survey (CES), adjusted for inflation using the CPI for food away from home. Conservatively, the basic family budget estimate for food away from home is half of the amount reported for families in the second-lowest ?fth (quintile) of the income distribution in the CES. Food away from home includes lunches purchased out or the occasional family meal eaten in a restaurant. Food costs are assumed to be the same throughout the state.
 Alisha Coleman-Jensen, Mark Nord, and Anita Singh, Household Food Security in the United States in 2012 (US Department of Agriculture: September 2013).
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Health care costs have risen during the last decade. Estimates in this report are based in large part on the costs of job-based health insurance plans (see methodology below), and total employee and employer costs for these plans have risen sharply in recent years in California. According to the California HealthCare Foundation, premiums for job-based family coverage rose by 169.7 percent between 2002 and 2012. This rate of increase is roughly five times the increase in overall inflation.
Employers have been shifting a rising share of health care costs onto employees. For example, health plans with high deductibles have become more common among smaller employers. The share of California employees of smaller firms with a “large-deductible” health plan, which means the employee pays for at least $1,000 in health costs in any given year before an insurer will pay for most costs, has gone from 7 percent in 2006 to 26 percent in 2012, more than tripling in just six years.
This report assumes that families pay the full cost of their health insurance. Like other family budget categories presented in this report, these estimates assume that families do not have access to any particular public or job-based benefit.
 UCLA Center for Health Policy Research, California Health Interview Survey (2012).
However, the average health insurance premiums reported in the MEPS dataset overstates what the costs of health insurance would be for these households. This is because (1) health insurance premiums tend to be higher for higher-wage workers, and (2) the MEPS dataset reflects average costs across all workers with job-based coverage, who earn on average higher wages than those who do not have such coverage. For this reason, this report “weights” the MEPS average premiums using data from a different source: the 2011 National Compensation Survey (NCS). This survey reports average premiums paid by workers across the income distribution, including low-wage workers. Weighting the MEPS average premiums using NCS data results in a lower – and thereby more conservative – estimate of premiums paid by workers at the lower end of the income distribution. Specifically, the weight is the ratio of (1) the average weighted premium associated with the average wage in the bottom 25 percent to (2) the average weighted premium for workers with job-based coverage. US Bureau of Labor Statistics, National Compensation Survey (March 2011).
The miscellaneous category includes expenditures on clothing and laundry services, education-related expenses, reading materials, personal care items, housekeeping supplies, and basic home telephone service. The cost of miscellaneous expenses is assumed to be constant throughout the state, ranging from $212 for a single adult to $509 for a two-parent family (Table 6).
A majority of the items in the miscellaneous expenses category are derived from the 2012 Current Expenditure Survey (CES). This survey collects information on household expenditures and income by families and single consumers, and all data are adjusted for inflation using the CPI. The “clothing and services” component of this category includes dry-cleaning and diaper service or disposable diapers, a major expense for families with infants and toddlers. The “education” component includes spending on school supplies and tuition and fees. The “reading” component includes books, newspapers, and magazine purchases. This report assumes that families spend half of what a typical family spends on these education- and reading-related components according to the CES. “Personal care” includes goods such as toothpaste and hair care products. “Housekeeping supplies” includes laundry and cleaning supplies, other household products, postage, and stationery.
The estimates for telephone service do not include long-distance calls and assume a budget-priced landline telephone plan from AT&T. Though this report does not assume that families have cell phones, monthly cell plans with prices similar to budget landline plans are often available.
Total monthly taxes on the income needed to cover housing, child care, transportation, food, health care, and miscellaneous expenses average $527 for a single adult, $1,035 for a single parent, $631 for a family of four with one working parent, and $1,014 for a two-working-parent household (Table 7). Tax costs vary significantly across family types and counties and are directly related to the total amount needed to cover other expenses. In some counties, the high income needed to pay for basic expenses results in taxes that are higher than the state average. For example, in San Francisco County, where the total family budget excluding taxes for a single parent of two children amounts to $73,444 a year, monthly tax costs are $1,909.
Recent changes in tax policy have resulted in higher tax bills for individuals and families relative to the late 2000s. In particular, the federal Making Work Pay tax credit, which offered many families a refundable tax credit of $400 for single or head-of-household workers and $800 for two-parent families filing jointly, expired at the end of 2010. Moreover, California’s Proposition 30, which was passed by voters in 2012, resulted in marginally higher tax costs for families, although the bulk of additional revenue from the measure – 78.8 percent – comes from the top 1 percent of California earners.
 See California Budget Project, What Would Proposition 30 Mean for California? (September 2012) for a detailed analysis of Proposition 30.
HOW MUCH DOES IT COST TO MAKE ENDS MEET WHERE YOU LIVE?
This family budget calculator shows how much it costs for a family in California to cover basic expenses. The budgets are calculated for all 58 California counties and four family types.
Monthly Family Budget