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United Way 2023 Real Cost Measure Study Finds 33% Of Orange County Households Fall Below Poverty Line

United Way 2023 Real Cost Measure Study Finds 33% of Orange County Households Fall Below Poverty Line

Too many working households struggle to meet basic needs and don’t earn enough to meet Orange County’s cost of living

Irvine, CA (June 21, 2023) –  United Way of California, in partnership with California’s 29 local United Ways, released How Much it Costs to Struggle: The Real Cost Measure in California 2023, a new study on what it takes to make ends meet in California. In Orange County, 1 in 3 households (or 33% ) fall below the Real Cost Measure.

“This study shines a light on how many Orange County families struggle financially to make ends meet to pay for necessities like housing, food, healthcare and childcare despite working full time or year round,” said Susan B. Parks, President and CEO of Orange County United Way. “We must continue to take steps to ensure families can thrive.”

Unlike the official poverty measure which primarily accounts for the cost of food, the Real Cost Measure factors the costs of housing, food, health care, childcare, transportation and other basic needs to reveal what it really costs to live in California.

“The Real Cost Measure in California 2023 shows that many more California working families struggle to meet living costs than official estimates and identifies significant gaps between what it costs for families and their children to live with dignity and what they actually earn,” said Peter Manzo, President and CEO of United Ways of California. “This Real Cost Measure should be the yardstick by which we set our statewide priorities, and this study is a wake-up call to elected officials, civic leaders, the business sector, and community members that much more needs to be done to help families thrive.”

The study’s other key findings for Orange County include:

  • Households struggle despite working: Of the estimated 302,844 households in Orange County that fall below the Real Cost Measure, 98% have at least one working adult.
  • Housing is a burden: 40% of all households in Orange County pay 30% or more of their income on housing.
  • More than half of young children live in struggling households: 52% of households in Orange County with children younger than six-years-old fall below the Real Cost Measure, a rate much greater than the rest of the county.
  • Households of all races struggle, but Latinx families struggle the most: Around 121,224 Latinx households (or 52% of them) are estimated to not earn enough make ends meet, compared to around 105,589 white households (23%); 68,392 Asian American households (34%); and 6,176 Black households (36%).
  • Less education results in greater struggle: More than 7 in 10 households without a high school diploma or equivalent (71%) fall below the Real Cost Measure, compared to those with a high school diploma (53%), those with at least some college education (37%), and those with a bachelor’s degree or further (19%).
  • Female-headed households and single mothers struggle: 55% of female headed households and 69% of households led by single mothers fall below the Real Cost Measure.

The Real Cost Measure webpage includes findings for each California county as well as an interactive data-visualization tool to help navigate the Real Cost Measure’s primary findings where one can explore interactive county and neighborhood maps, statewide, region and county profiles, common household budgets, and more.

“The findings uncovered in the Real Cost Measure play a critically important part in our work. We’re diving into the data to figure out how we can use the information to inform how our programs will function over the next five years to help Orange County residents achieve financial stability and improve their lives,” said Andrew Fahmy, Executive Director of Orange County United Way’s United for Financial Security initiative.

Orange County United Way and United Way of California will also be hosting an in-person community deep dive of the study this summer.

To learn more about the Real Cost Measure Study findings and methodology, visit: unitedwaysca.org/realcost.


Orange County United Way is committed to breaking barriers and improving lives for everyone who lives here. By offering programming and services through our three key initiatives—United for Student Success℠, United for Financial Security℠, and United to End Homelessness℠—we are working to ensure local students succeed, struggling OC families gain financial security, and our homeless neighbors find a place to call home. We step up to actively address the critical issues facing our community and we go the extra mile to make sure our residents have the support they need. We are committed to caring for one another. That’s #TheOCWay.

To learn more or discover how you can help, visit UnitedWayOC.org.

Orange County United Way is a standalone, independent 501(c)(3) non-profit organization.

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

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