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New United Way Study Finds 1 In 3 Households In Orange County Struggle To Meet Basic Needs

New United Way Study Finds 1 in 3 Households in Orange County Struggle to Meet Basic Needs

Too Many Working Families Don’t Earn Enough to Meet Orange County’s Cost of Living

Irvine, CA (September 2, 2021) – One in three Orange County families are struggling to cover their daily needs, according to a new study released by United Ways of California that defines which families struggle financially in California more accurately than the federal poverty level, and demonstrates that the current policy debates around child care, housing costs, and family tax credits are more urgent than ever.

The study, Struggling to Move Up: The Real Cost Measure in California 2021, finds that the share of families that struggle financially is 250 percent higher in California than what is factored in the federal government’s measure. It amounts to 3.5 million families who are unable to meet basic needs — a situation affecting Latino and Black households at much higher rates than other communities. The federal government uses an outdated formula for calculating poverty — one that fails to take into account how much rent, transportation, healthcare, and other basic needs cost in California.

“The Real Cost Measure identifies significant gaps between what it costs for families to live in Orange County and what their actual income is,” said Susan B. Parks, President and Chief Executive Officer, Orange County United Way. “The Real Cost Measure is bringing alarming statistics to light to remind us of the challenges affecting the future of our community. It’s up to us to help make a change.”

According to the study, a family of four (two adults, one preschooler, and one school-aged child) in Orange County must make  $101,087 to meet their basic needs.

The study’s other key findings include:

  • Households of color struggle disproportionately: Across Orange County, African Americans and Latinos have a disproportionate number of households with incomes below the Standard. In Orange County, of the 284,520 households below the Real Cost Measure, 120,295 are Latino.
  • Families with children face a large barrier to economic security: In Orange County, 50 percent of households with children under six struggles, a rate much greater than that of the rest of the county.
  • Childcare costs can be almost as expensive as housing for many families: In Orange County, the annual cost of childcare for a family with two adults, one preschooler, and one school-aged child can reach $19,750.
  • Families work, but don’t earn enough: In Orange County, 98 percent of households below the Real Cost Measure have at least one working adult. 83 percent of heads of household who work are employed full-time and year round. And, a family of four (two adults, one preschooler, and one school-aged child) would need to hold more than three full-time, minimum-wage jobs to achieve economic security.
  • High housing costs are a major challenge for struggling households: In Orange County, 39 percent of all households spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing.
  • Single mothers are most likely to struggle: In Orange County, 67 percent of single mothers are below the Real Cost Measure.

The study is based on the U.S. Census Bureau’s Community Survey data from 2014 through 2019. The study’s website provides figures for each of California’s 58 counties, down to the city and neighborhood level, and offers interactive maps and a feature that calculates how much families in any region need to make ends meet.


Today’s Orange County United Way is committed to leading the fight for equity by removing barriers, closing gaps, and leveling the playing field for everyone who lives here. More than a fundraiser, we’re hands-on, delivering more than 50 programs countywide to improve lives in our community. Every day we are doing more for the Education, Health, Housing, and Financial Stability of people in Orange County. We are working to ensure our students succeed, our struggling families find financial security, and our homeless neighbors find a place to call home. To learn more or discover how you can help, visit www.unitedwayoc.org

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Media Contact: Annie Noebel, anoebel@cornerstonecomms.com or (949) 525-7024

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