Who is Low Income in Marin?

Updated: Sep 29, 2018


Dylan Panahy | NextGen Marin

When you hear the term “low income,” what comes to mind? Don’t feel bad if you have a negative perception of the term; it has been tossed around the media circuit for years, usually with a dangerous connotation. To put it crudely, “low income” conjures up images of poor, dangerous areas filled with poor, desperate people. While this image may be more accurate in less fortunate parts of the country, in terms of wealth Marin might as well be another planet. So what does low income mean in Marin? Who really qualifies as low income here?


Do you?


Well, according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, an annual household income of $117,400 is now officially considered “low income” in Marin as of 2018, an increase from about $105,000 the previous year. To put this in perspective, the average median income for a household of 4 in Marin is $118,400 according to HUD figures. So, if your family of 4 is making just $1,000 below median income, you are officially low income in Marin.


For an individual in Marin, the disparity between the average income earner and a low income classification is even narrower. HUD classifies an annual salary of $82,200 or below as low income, while median income for an individual living in Marin is $82,900 - just $700 below the low income classification. This means that the average person in Marin county living alone is a mere $700 away from being considered a low income resident.


Sure, these median income numbers could be thrown off by unemployed persons, but Marin has a comparatively low unemployment rate (2.7% in June 2018). Also, the number of households in Marin with an annual income of $1,000,000 or more is four times the statewide average, with 180 out of every 10,000 Marin households making more than a million a year. So, if anything, these median income numbers are being skewed upwards, not downwards.


So can the average Marinite making median income even afford to live in this county? Let’s say you’re a single person working in Marin and you want to rent a 1-bedroom apartment. Last year, the median rent in Marin for a one-bedroom apartment was $2,430, so renting an average 1-bedroom apartment for one year would cost exactly $29,160 if you ignore additional utilities and parking expenses. If you are making exactly median income, $82,900, you would not qualify to rent an average 1-bedroom apartment in Marin County, as most landlords are encouraged to ensure rent is ⅓ or less of a tenant’s annual income. You would need an annual salary of at least $87,480, 5.3% higher than median income, to afford an average 1-bedroom apartment.


But why does this matter?


You might say, well, Marin is an expensive area, and if you can’t afford to live here then you should just move out. The problem with this attitude is that countless jobs that every County relies on to provide basic services pay far less than what is needed to live here.


The average teacher makes about $55,000 a year; the average EMT makes $52,992. USPS mail carriers here in Marin make an average mid-career salary of $79,487, with starting pay at around $65,460 according to salarygenius.com. Notice anything? All of these salaries are WAY above their national averages, and they STILL don’t make enough to afford the average 1-bedroom apartment. Even Paramedics at the Marin County Fire Department, who make FAR above the national average at $83,926 per year, still make less than what it would take to rent a 1-bedroom apartment at median rent level in Marin county. Now think about all normal everyday service jobs that make an economy run; retail workers, waiters, cooks, post office employees - certainly none of these jobs pay even close to what it takes to afford living here modestly. And people still are wondering why 60% of all Marin’s workers (about 70,000 people) commute into work here every week day according to data from the Marin Economic Forum.


So who’s really low income in Marin? A lot more people than you might think. I know I am, although my status as a college student makes this designation a bit less impactful. However, given that the average salary of a first-year UC Berkeley graduate is $54,700, I’m not expecting to be able to afford to live alone here anytime soon. What about you? Are you low income?


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