Economy: Income Distribution and Poverty

Economy: Income Distribution and Poverty

Why Is This Important?
The cost of living in San Mateo County is very high relative to other parts of California.  Wide gaps in income levels may create a small class of upper-income residents who can afford to live in the county while middle- and lower-income residents may have difficulty remaining.  A large income disparity can cause unequal access to education, health care, and other resources.  People living in poverty are often unable to meet their nutritional, health care, and educational needs.  Children are especially vulnerable to poverty, as deprivation can stunt physical growth and cognitive development.

What Is a Sustainable State?
A sustainable state is one where all community members, regardless of income level, are able to meet their basic needs and enjoy a high quality of life.

How Are We Doing?
Income distribution
In 2006, there were income disparities across individual households in San Mateo County as well as across cities.

  • Between 2004 and 2006, the percentage of households in San Mateo County with an income above $100,000 grew from 34 percent to 38 percent of total households.
  • Between 2004 and 2006, the percentage of households that earned less than $50,000 declined from 36 percent to 30 percent of total households.  It is unclear whether this is because of earnings growth or because lower-income households were moving out of the county.

Data source: U.S. Census Bureau

  • In 2006, Atherton ($226,414) and Portola Valley ($209,274) had the highest median household incomes in the county.  In comparison, four cities in the county had household median incomes below $80,000 (Colma, South San Francisco, San Bruno, and Daly City) and six other cities’ median household incomes were below $90,000.


  • In 2006, 7.4 percent of San Mateo County residents lived in households with earnings below the federal poverty threshold ($16,079 for a family of three), compared with 13.1 percent of individuals in the entire state. 
  • In 2006, 10.2 percent of the county’s children lived in households with earnings below the poverty threshold, compared with 6.7 percent of adults age 18 and older. 

Data source: U.S. Census Bureau

Because of San Mateo County’s high cost of living, comparisons with the federal poverty threshold can be misleading.  In 2006, a family of three in San Mateo County needed household earnings of $66,442 to be self sufficient.  More than one-third of households earned less than that level of income.  In 2007, the self-sufficiency level increased to $71,827.

See appendix page 73, CLICK HERE. Researcher: Carrie Branam

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From the 2017 Indicators Report

Between 2010 and 2015, the average rental cost rose by 49% and the median house sale price rose by 52% in San Mateo County.

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