Cost of living continues upward trend

Double-income families hoping to make ends meet in the Bay Area will need to earn more than $72,000 — nearly four times the federal poverty level, according to a new study from the California Budget Project.

That sum, for two working parents raising two children, is also higher than the statewide break-even income of $59,732, or $29 per hour. What’s worse, those estimates assume that the family isn’t spending any money on vacations, cable or Internet bills, or socking away money for retirement or college, said Dave Carroll, research director for the project.

“For this study, we assumed families rent, that they eat at home and follow a low-cost food plan, that they buy their own health care and that they have children who need child care,” Carroll said.

Families trying to make it in the Bay Area develop a variety of strategies for keeping up with the high cost of living — finding very low rents, sharing apartments with one or two other families, working different shifts to cut down on child care costs, or living well outside the Bay Area and commuting to work daily, Carroll said.

Without such strategies, any single cost can soak up an entire month’s salary. For example, child care in San Francisco can cost up to $1,600 a month for an infant, said Candace Wong, director of the child care facilities fund for the Low-Income Investment Fund, which provides support for The City’s 1,000 or more licensed child care centers.

When families can’t afford those costs, groups such as the fund help secure grant money to keep child care centers open and well maintained, Wong said. San Francisco also enacted Preschool for All two years ago, which provides free preschool for 1,600 4-year-olds each year.

Likewise, San Mateo County’s leaders have stepped in to ease the financial pain low-income families face. The county has launched a pilot program for 2,000 residents that will eventually provide health coverage for the working poor, and founded Housing Our People Effectively to end homelessness and the Housing Endowment And Regional Trust to increase the county’s affordable-housing supply, county Supervisor Jerry Hill said.

“Many of these people are one paycheck away from being homeless,” Hill said. “The high cost of housing is the biggest nut families have to crack every month, and we need to aggressively pursue adequate housing in locations that can support it.”

bwinegarner@examiner.com

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