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January 27, 2014

A new report by the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) is shedding light on the number of individuals and families living in poverty in the San Diego region. SANDAG compiled poverty data from the U.S. Census survey from 2007 to 2011, finding that more than 387,000 people in the county live at or below the federal poverty level, including 13 percent of individuals and 9 percent of families. Further, the majority of those living in poverty are employed. 

On Jan. 20, Dr. Cynthia Burke, director of SANDAG’s applied research division, and Peter Callstrom, president and CEO of the San Diego Workforce Partnership, sat down with Peggy Pico of the KPBS Evening Edition to discuss the report and what it says about poverty and jobs in San Diego.

Burke explained that an individual with an annual income of $12,000 is living in poverty, as is a family of four with an annual income just below $24,000. 

Some of the cities with the highest levels of poverty include Imperial Beach, National City, Vista and El Cajon. The situation is especially bad in National City, where 52 percent of individuals and 48 percent of families are living at 200 percent of poverty.

Some other findings of note in the SANDAG report: 

  • Of the individuals living below poverty, 54 percent are females and 46 percent are males. 
  • The lower the level of educational attainment, the greater the proportion of people living in poverty. 
  • Female-headed households living below the poverty level had a higher proportion of youth under the age of 18 living with them and had more people living in their household than married couples. 
  • 28 percent of families living below the poverty level reported receiving Supplemental Security Income and/or cash public assistance income.

Getting people working is one piece of the puzzle in decreasing poverty levels. Callstrom argued that the unemployment numbers may be skewed. “The unemployment rate has gone down as we’ve seen locally, but that doesn’t reflect every single person who’s looking for work or unemployed,” he said. “If they’ve gone beyond the unemployment support, they then disappear from the rolls [and are not going to be counted], so that 6.7 number [San Diego’s unemployment rate as of the date of the interview] could easily be doubled in our region as to what the true unemployment rate is.”

Interestingly, while finding people jobs seems an obvious part of the poverty problem, the SANDAG report shows that 71 percent of county residents living at federal poverty level are already employed. Callstrom explained that there are many service-related positions and entry-level positions that just don’t pay that well in San Diego—but there are resources to help. “At the San Diego Workforce Partnership, we operate the Career Center Network, so people can come for free and get support for getting into new careers as well,” he said. “We want to be able to help people move on from those lower-wage positions onto a long-term career pathway that’s going to pay them well and meet the demand of what employers are looking for in our region.” Callstrom added the career centers offer subsidized training so people can take courses that will help improve their skill sets and also get input on their résumés.

To read the full SANDAG Info “Poverty in the San Diego Region,” visit

To watch the KPBS interview, visit

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