Making a Living in California

“By living wages, I mean more than a bare subsistence level—I mean the wages of a decent living.” —Franklin Delano Roosevelt

In Alameda County in 2012, 60% of single parent households; 29.4% of married couples with children; and 22.7% of households without children were not making enough money to meet their basic costs. The cost of living measure used throughout this site is the Family Economic Self-Sufficiency Standard. It includes the basic costs families face on a daily basis—housing, food, child care, out-of-pocket medical expenses, transportation, and other necessary spending (it does not include spending for recreation, entertainment, savings, or debt repayment). Unlike the federal poverty level or the consumer price index, the self-sufficiency standard provides a comprehensive picture of what it takes for families to make ends meet and accounts for variation in costs of living at the county level.

Here are the different family sizes we look at:

One adult

One adult and an infant

One adult, an infant, and a schoolage child

One adult, a schoolage child, and a teenager

Two adults

Two adults and an infant

Two adults, an infant, and a schoolage child

Two adults, a schoolage child, and a teenager

The Cost of Living is Rising

Between 2000 and 2014, the cost of living has risen significantly in Alameda County. During this time, increases in essential family expenses have outpaced inflation. Families with children face dramatically higher monthly costs than adults without children do.

Use the radar graphs below to see the changes in expenses for different families in Alameda since 2000.

Hover over to change the year:

Current Costs in California

On a statewide level, current cost of living expenses vary.

See how the cost of living in Alameda County compares to other counties in the state.

Choose a family size then click on a circle on the map to select a county. Select multiple counties (hold down the ctrl key while clicking on a circle) to compare them against each other.

The Wage Gap

For most families, minimum wage does not equate to a self-sufficient wage.

Meeting their basic needs is difficult for many families. The current California statewide minimum wage is $9 per hour (higher than the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour). While cities in Alameda have set their own higher minimum wages (from $10 to $12.25 per hour), many families still struggle to make ends meet each month.

Choose a family size and use the minimum wage slider to see how different family types are impacted by the current minimum wage and what minimum wage value would be needed to help them achieve self-sufficiency. Hover over a specific county to get more details.

A Local Perspective

How are three cities addressing the gap?

Cost of living also differs within counties. In Alameda County, three adjoining cities—Emeryville, Berkeley, and Oakland—have each tried to address local cost of living variations by passing or proposing local minimum wage ordinances. Oakland currently has the highest minimum wage in the country at $12.25 an hour. On May 5, 2015, Emeryville gave initial approval to raise its minimum wage to $16 by 2019. The proposed ordinance states:

“[I]n an effort to help working households achieve economic security and acknowledging the higher relative cost of living in San Francisco Bay Area, the City Council of the City of Emeryville wishes to enact a citywide minimum wage that is higher than the minimum wage required by the federal and state rates.”

Use the visualization below to see how current and future minimum wage laws in each of these three cities would impact a family families of one adult with an infant and a schoolage child.


Local changes in minimum wage can have a national impact.

The proposed minimum wage increases in Alameda County are still not enough to meet the self-sufficiency standards for many families, but they are an important first step in changing the status quo. The recent media attention on these legislative proposals in Alameda highlight the ability for local governments to change the national conversation on minimum wage. It’s important that this conversation includes a fuller understanding of minimum wage that acknowledges the difficulties so many different families face in meeting their everyday needs. We all have the ability to contribute to this conversation, both on a local and national level. Learn more about minimum wage advocacy at the local and national level: East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy; Lift Up Oakland; UC Berkeley Labor Center; Raise the Minimum Wage.


This website was created by Pavel Vanegas, Emily Paul, and Shomik Sarkar as the final project for Information Visualization, a course at the UC Berkeley School of Information.

The visualizations - created with Tableau and D3.js - are based off data provided from The Insight Center for Community Economic Development, and the Center's Family Economic Self-Sufficiency Project. The website was designed using Cool Kitten, a framework by Jalxob. Family icons are from the Noun Project, images by Stephanie Wauters an Refika Kortun.