A picket sign on the ground at the University of California, Los Angeles campus in Los Angeles on Nov. 14, 2022. Pablo Unzueta for CalMatters

(CALMATTERS) – Though state Sen. Steve Padilla’s bill to calculate a “living wage” for each California county officially died in May, efforts to pin down a more accurate cost of living continue on.

On Tuesday, United Ways of California released its latest living wage calculator, which estimates how much a household must earn to afford the basics in different regions.

To go beyond federal poverty guidelines, the Real Cost Measure includes the cost of housing, food (which the federal poverty level does not consider), healthcare, child care, taxes, transportation and other necessities. The analysis calculated 1,200 different budgets from different regions, counties and neighborhoods, as well as different household budgets for one working adult to 19 adults. 

For two adults living with one preschooler and one school-aged child, for example, the living wage is about $84,700 in Riverside County, $87,000 in Sacramento County and $146,000 in Marin.

Other key takeaways from the report:

  • More than one in three households in California (3.7 million) don’t make a living wage, 2.6 million more than the official poverty figure of 1.1 million.
  • Four in 10 households in California (about 4.7 million) pay at least 30% of their income for housing.
  • Between 1984 and 2021, California’s gross domestic product grew by 173%, but median household earnings rose only 4%.

During an online presentation about the study’s findings, Assemblymember Miguel Santiago, a Democrat from Los Angeles, said that “if we’re really taking what’s at heart on this report, then we’ve got a lot of work to do.”

  • Santiago: “People are hurting. And a federal measure or standard doesn’t quite do the trick anymore. We can move that number all around but the bottom line is that people are suffering in the state of California.”