We chose the cost of living as our Key Indicator in 2017 for the sweeping impacts on our neighborhoods, health, environment, and culture. It also highlights the interconnections between San Mateo County and the broader region, which is becoming increasingly urban.

Located in the center of Silicon Valley, San Mateo County’s economy is closely interconnected with surrounding Bay Area counties and has become increasingly urban.The cost of living in the Bay Area has grown over the past 20 years and is now over twice the national average (JobTrain). In San Mateo County, as with other metropolitan areas across the nation, the middle-class is shrinking. The high cost of living in the county is driving out low-income residents and limiting the ability of new arrivals to find suitable housing in proximity to their jobs.

Gini Coefficient

  • The Gini Coefficient measures wealth distribution in a geographic area.
  • Between 2006 and 2016, inequality in San Mateo County increased by 4.97%, more than San Francisco and Santa Clara Counties.
  • Income inequality has increased alongside the cost of living.
  • According to the County of San Mateo Human Services Agency, one-third of families and one-fifth of individuals struggled to meet their basic needs in 2016.
  • Depending on a resident’s income level and social capital, the cost of living can compromise access to quality housing, food, healthcare, utilities, transportation, education, childcare, work-life balance, and civic engagement.

Over the past four years the county median household income has increased by 20%, shifting the definition of middle-income wages. Income disparity persists as many residents struggle to meet their needs, but earn too much to qualify for government assistance based on the Federal Poverty Level (FPL) or the state poverty rate. Shown below is the median household income distribution and the income limits for several federal and state run safety net benefits.

Safety Net & Income

  • In response to the high cost of living, several government agencies increased the income limits for safety net programs in 2017, including federal housing assistance and state child care subsidies.
  • A variety of local nonprofit organizations have stepped-up efforts to alleviate the pressure on household budgets while providing services to an increasing number of clients.
  • Learn more about housing affordability in the Indicators Report.

Population growth and urbanization are transforming our region and require thoughtful planning to enhance and maintain the standard of living for our economically diverse population. Over the course of the year, SSMC will examine the economic drivers that influence the cost of living, document the social and environmental repercussions, and share resources that seek to address the challenges.


[smc-hide]JobTrain: Job Training That Works. (2017). Retrieved from http://www.jobtrainworks.org/

JobTrain. (2016). The Broken Pathway: Uncovering the Economic Inequality in the Bay Area (p. 10). Retrieved from http://www.jobtrainworks.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/The-Broken-Pathway-Overview-12.07.16.pdf