As The Examiner’s “Working to Survive” series has made clear, low-income working families’ struggle to cope with the burdensome high cost of such basic necessities as health care, housing, transportation and child care in the Bay Area can seem like a Sisyphean task. And, as the series pointed out, the minimum range of what it takes to stay financially afloat in the region is so high that far more of our neighbors than we may think are sharing this uncomfortable challenge.
The math of making ends meet in the Bay Area is daunting: A family of four needs between $55,740 and $79,944 to survive, according to a California Budget Project’s 2005 study. The figures aren’t much better statewide, and that’s no doubt why Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger rightly has called for raising the state’s eligibility level for the federal State Children’s Health Insurance Program — which helps families not poor enough to qualify for Medicare but without the means to cover their children’s health care — to 300 percent of the Federal Poverty Level, or $61,950 for a family of four.
On the municipal level, The City’s Healthy San Francisco plan should help working families with health care if legal issues surrounding businesses’ contribution are ironed out. Indeed, San Francisco’s health plan may prove a model for California to follow as Sacramento hashes out competing plans for health care for the uninsured.
With working families needing an average $1,871 per month to afford housing in the Bay Area, it’s no wonder income that would be considered almost upper middle class in much of the U.S. is required in our region. While the 49 square miles of San Francisco is a limiting factor on increasing housing stock in The City, the prevalent hostility between the public and private sectors should not be. Under the circumstances, it’s encouraging that a major part of Mayor Gavin Newsom’s vow to facilitate the development of 15,000 housing units in five years, including one-third for low- and moderate-income residents, has been realized.
While the high cost of renting, much less owning, a home in the Bay Area is hardly a secret, the fact that so many people are dependent on driving a car in our relatively transit-oriented region — 40 percent of San Franciscans older than 16 drive alone to work, according to the Census Bureau — is something of a surprise. To help address that, it’s not unreasonable to ask that Muni’s Lifeline passes for those with household incomes no more than double the FPL should cost $10, the same as the senior and disabled pass, and not $35.
After paying for rent, health care, transportation and food, working families are stretched to the breaking point trying to cover child care. The City’s Preschool for All for 4-year-old children should be fully in place by the next school year and we hope that it represents one more step in the right direction to help the working families that are a vital part of our region’s social fabric.