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TABLE OF CONTENTS FOREWORD ........................................................................3 INTRODUCTION ...................................................................5 WHAT WE LEARNED ........................................................6-16 WHAT IT ALL MEANS......................................................17-25 REMOVING THE ROADBLOCKS.......................................26-27 ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS .......................................................28

UNITED WAY MISSION To improve lives by mobilizing the caring power of the San Diego Community.

FOREWORD Bank of America has a 29-year partnership with United Way of San Diego County. We share common goals in our commitment to improving the community by providing vital resources and assistance to San Diegans who struggle. United Way’s dedication to economic self-sufficiency is demonstrated by two of their strategies – Bright Futures’ financial education programs for youth and adults and its leadership in the Earned Income Tax Credit coalition – both of which Bank of America supports and applauds. This report reflects the collaborative efforts that bring a community together. United Way listened to San Diegans, including youth, to understand their struggles and hear how to move them toward self-sufficiency. Bank of America also recognizes that caring for individuals and families within our community is critical to our collective success. As this report suggests, connecting people to education, information and resources empowers them to improve their lives and eventually helps the entire community. A single mother who takes financial education courses so she can afford a safe home for herself and her children; Two parents working two jobs each so they can stay out of debt and keep their kids in school. These scenarios of sacrifice and achievement are not uncommon in our community. And if our neighbors don’t succeed, we don’t succeed. Promoting strong, vibrant communities has always been a part of Bank of America’s mission. We know that by working with organizations like United Way, with deep roots in San Diego and a history of improving health and human services in the region, we can do amazing things together. As you read this report, I hope you will reflect on your own community, your own neighbors, your own family and think about what we can all do to make life better for everyone in the San Diego community.

Rick Bregman San Diego Market President Bank of America


In San Diego, like many counties across the country, the economic downturn of 2008 still reverberates, impacting individuals and communities alike. Though recovery is apparent, it comes with a price: the problems that were in place over the last ten years have only deepened, and nowhere is that more true than in the area of financial selfsufficiency. In the last four years, we’ve learned how quickly erosion in any of the building blocks to a good life – education, income or health – weakens the entire community. But when money is the issue, it gets more complicated. It’s a topic that nobody wants to talk about … until it’s too late. And that needs to change. Though home foreclosures and evictions have declined, layoffs and restructuring still affects the local economy. And though short-term measures may stabilize families – keeping them in their homes, able to afford utilities and buy enough food – in the long term, our community will only prosper and grow if all families are financially stable.

“People are fearful about letting people know what they’re doing with their money. [We] need to teach people that it’s okay to talk about money. Someone who is rich has the money to pay someone to manage their money. That’s not true with [the] middle and lower class. They don’t know what to do with their money, so you see this perpetuated through generations.”


As many San Diegans continue to walk a financial tightrope, United Way hopes to help broaden that tightrope into a path, making it less likely that people will fall. The work we do to increase financial stability has benefits that build bridges throughout the community. But they must start with the individual, and they must encompass both short-term and long-term needs of individuals and the community. Over the past two years, United Way held conversations all over the county – from Oceanside to Chula Vista – to ask questions about the subject no one wants to discuss: money. We wanted to hear what ordinary people were saying about their struggles, and what they need to move toward economic self-sufficiency. This includes earning enough income and knowing what to do with it. It sets an example for children, who need to learn the value of budgeting and saving early. If adults learn money-management skills, they can set a healthy example. Parents can’t model what they don’t know. They must also understand what to do when that regular wage is gone, disaster strikes or resources are diverted. And when you don’t know what to do, how do you get help?



“A lot of these training programs, the government pays $15K for six months to do medical assistant or dental assistant training. They don’t know anything after only six months. No one will hire these people.”

“Education is a huge factor. There is no equality in education now. Wealthy communities and disadvantaged communities aren’t getting the same education.”

As we listened to what people had to say, some themes emerged: • Many San Diegans can’t make ends meet. • It’s complicated. People have difficulty understanding and accessing resources. • Skills don’t match available jobs. • Education, income and health are connected. Despite reports of a recovering economy, people are still struggling. According to those who work for local assistance agencies, this continues to be a shocking reality: One case manager reported, “Most of my families have never been in this position. They were working, got unemployment and those benefits ran out and now they need food stamps. It’s very sad. Many of them have to file bankruptcy and now they don’t pass the background checks to get a new job at the same level they had before.” One thing we heard repeatedly is that people are frustrated by the system – they need help navigating the resources that may be available to them. One participant explained it this way: “It’s not until you get into one of these programs or just happen to hear ... you’re never going to hear about the different options. They make it so difficult with all these procedures and paperwork. It’s a hassle.” Another added, “There is so much information out there; we need a more concise way to go and get [it].” We heard that child care and transportation are major issues: not only the costs involved, but the barriers those costs create to getting or keeping a job. Even at the early stages of employment – interviewing or training – without access to affordable ways to care for children and get to and from work, families are stranded in their circumstance. And what about the training that’s available? One participant commented that what’s available doesn’t match the need. We heard the same frustration from employers, who claim they have jobs to offer, but people lack the right training.


A minimum-wage employee has to work more than 80 hours a week to afford a two‐bedroom apartment.* A single person with no dependents needs a full-time job paying at least $13.13 an hour, or $27,733 a year, to meet basic expenses. A full-time worker making California’s minimum wage of $8 an hour earns only $16,896 in a year, but even that is higher than the official federal poverty level of $11,161. For families with two working adults supporting children, costs such as child care and transportation go up, increasing the amount needed just to get by. Unfortunately, many low-income households have jobs in minimum-wage industries, including retail and hospitality. Key to improving the family’s self-sufficiency is increasing skills and education so that those who are motivated can get a better job. *Center for Policy Initiatives, Making Ends Meet in San Diego County 2010

The situation was summarized eloquently by another downtown resident who put it this way: “There is no middle class anymore. It’s the haves and have-nots.” Among the “have-nots,” those who struggle most for financial stability, two “red zones” emerge (as one caseworker from North County Lifeline dubbed it): those in “survival” mode, who live in a state of crisis, and those who are trying to transition from public assistance to economic independence. People also talked about the connection between getting a good education and getting ahead, with one resident stating, “Education is the solution to our problems.” Another clarified the issue more specifically: “Education doesn’t just mean colleges but preparing people for skilled trades. Everyone can’t go through college and doesn’t need to; there should be plenty out there to do other jobs.” But wherever education lands on the spectrum, from professional development to advanced degrees, the world of employment isn’t what it used to be. As one participant put it, “There are no more 30-year jobs; everyone needs to be retrained constantly.”

“Youth aren’t prepared. We see families kicking out the 18-year-olds who don’t know how to get a job and have no knowledge about how to manage money.”

One of the most difficult realities we heard about is the economic disparity among San Diegans. One downtown resident described it this way: “There is a part of society that is doing quite well – those tall buildings you see downtown indicate that. And a section of people are doing very, very bad…right at the street level of those very tall buildings. This doesn’t make sense. In a community where we have what we have, we shouldn’t have that.”

“My dad was a banker – I grew up with half the money going into savings. When I got a job, my Dad said, ‘Are you doing your 401k?’ I have so many friends who don’t know how to balance their checkbook.”



One woman said, “Financial education in Barrio Logan; there isn’t a lot of actual planning for what’s going to happen in the future; the focus is on day-to-day survival.” Another participant, who works with a local service agency, commented that those in crisis have difficulty thinking beyond the necessities of now; conversation is always focused on immediate needs: “My families are… always in survival mode – so to get them to think in another way is very difficult. What we think is stability … it is hard to get them there. They have to pay the rent that was due yesterday and put food on the table. They might even have to do something illegal to do that.”

Those who struggle fall into two categories: in crisis or barely making ends meet. While in crisis, or “survival” mode, paying rent and feeding children are paramount, while planning ahead is a pipe dream.

“I’m a surgical tech. I went from making $1,500 per week to being homeless. Even with my background I just can’t find work. I made a mistake, but now I can’t pass the background checks to get a job.”

We heard that even two working adults often can’t make ends meet, especially when factoring in the costs of child care, transportation, health care – and other day-to-day necessities. “I work but always have to make choices of what to pay and not pay.”

Even with two working parents,

one in three

families can’t make ends meet.



“You don’t know what they’re saying when they’re looking at you. [It’s a] different story all the time. The guidelines don’t make sense. The rigmarole – it’s ridiculous.”

“Lots of people don’t know about the job training; don’t do research to know what jobs will be available once they’re done with training.”

“Unless you know someone to cut through the red tape, there isn’t an automated way to get the benefits that are available to you or that you qualify for. It’s hard to collect what you have coming when the system is so mixed up.”

“You need the information to tell you what you can qualify for – you need an agency that can do that for you. The money is there to be spent, but half the time it doesn’t get used.”


We’ve all dealt with the complications of bureaucratic protocol: the forms, the signatures, the deadlines, the copies, the paperwork. It can be a day long project, sometimes longer. Imagine if on top of all that, you didn’t fully understand what you heard or what you read? What if every hour you took to apply for assistance cost you more in child care than what you’d receive in benefits? These are the circumstances that challenge many working families. And when you get paid by the hour, and don’t get paid personal time, it’s costing you money.

Federal Poverty vs. Self-Sufficiency Almost a third of working-age households in San Diego County have incomes below what they need to meet basic living expenses. Half of those struggling households include someone with a full-time job. Making Ends Meet in San Diego County 2010, a study released by the Center on Policy Initiatives and United Way of San Diego County, measured local costs of housing, child care, food and other basic expenses to determine a bare-bones budget for various-sized families. Federal Poverty Level (FPL) – used to determine financial eligibility for certain government assistance programs. FPL is the same regardless of geographic location and cost of living. It also omits basic expenses such as housing, transportation, and child care. Family of one – $11,490 Family of two – $15,510 Family of four – $23,550 Self-sufficiency standard – calculated annually, indicates income levels working families need to afford basic needs without public or private assistance, including housing, child care, food, transportation, health care, taxes, miscellaneous (clothing, phone, basic household items). A significant “gap” population exists between households making too much income to qualify for assistance (above the poverty level) and those not making enough to be self sufficient.

How much is enough in San Diego?

To meet the most basic expenses for a family of three in San Diego County, you would need to work more than three full-time minimum wage jobs.

The graph below shows that the FPL, which is commonly used to determine eligibility for public support programs, is not enough. Neither is the maximum CalWORKs with CalFresh benefit, which is even less than the FPL. To meet the most basic expenses for a family of three in San Diego County, you would need to work more than three full-time minimum wage jobs.**

3 in 10 households in San Diego County earn less than the “selfsufficiency� level, including more than 180,000 households with at least one person working full-time or part-time.**

It should be noted that the County administers the selfsufficiency programs on behalf of the State. Since the economic downturn they have seen huge growth in program enrollment, especially in CalFresh (formerly food stamps).

San Diego County (2011)


One Adult with One Preschooler and One School-age Child Three full-time minimum wage jobs at $8.00/hr $49,920

$16,640 100% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines

40 hr/week job at $29.75/hr* $62,829


$19,092 $13,968 $16,640


Federal Poverty Guidelines

Maximum CalWORKS and CalFresh Benefit

Full-Time Minimum Wage Job

Self-Sufficiency Standard

*Note: The Self Sufficiency Standard includes the net effect of the addition of the childcare and child tax credits and the subtraction of taxes.

**Insight Center for Community Economic Development (


“Training centers aren’t easily accessible; in other cities, community centers are centrally located, within an affordable housing complex, instead of having to travel to get there. There is an appointment, but the appointment isn’t really at 10 a.m., check-in is at 10 a.m. You have to wait a long time.”

“Making the system easier to negotiate – or doing some of the screening before clients approach support – would not only unburden the system but also ease the pressure on those trying to access what might be available.”

“For food stamps, I needed to have less than $1,000. Now I don’t apply. Once I tried to apply – my daughter had asthma, my husband’s company was on strike – but they had a lot of requirements….They said, ‘You make too much money.’ ”

A complicated web greets those seeking to access benefits. The chart below illustrates the lack of consistency among federal, state and local assistance programs with different income hurdles to qualify for each. Many families give up or never begin accessing the benefits that could help them transition to self-sufficiency more quickly. For example, although one participant references a $1,000 limit, the income limits for CalFresh this year are actually $2,069 for a family of three. What would have happened if they had persisted, or if the information had been easier to access?







Medi-Cal 1931(b), Head Start


100% FPL

CalFresh/National School Lunch


130% FPL

County Medical Services (CMS)


165% FPL

Women and Infants Care (WIC)


185% FPL

SSI/SSP, General Relief, CAPI, Ticket to Work

Little/no income

Little/no income

Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC)



State Child Care


70% State Median

WORKFORCE DEVELOPMENT PROGRAMS WIA Adults (employed), Youth, Job Corps and Vets (employed) 12




In some cases, training might be available, even funded, but the jobs aren’t waiting when training is over. “Jobs are an opportunity and a risk,” one agency employer said. “We have training programs coming out our ears, but people don’t have the skills to get into those programs.” Another added, “People are getting lots of certificates – but if a job isn’t waiting, then it doesn’t do any good.” Even for those who do have education, the expectation of what kind of employment is available doesn’t always align with reality. One business leader commented, “Young people don’t know realistically what jobs pay or what the needs are, for example American engineers; we really need to link education and job possibilities: what can you actually do with a degree in math or physics?” Another continued, “I want to give these college and high school kids the things they need for the future, like internships from local community businesses. My oldest son dropped out of high school; now he wants to go to the community college program and get his GED. He passed the test the first time. If we are going to have these kids stay in school, we need to have them do an internship with local business to get more skills so that they are not out there just getting into trouble.”

“I have a degree but I’m not getting the jobs. I was going to be paid almost minimum wage…with a Bachelors. I looked at computer jobs and started taking classes. But in that field you need to upgrade. I’m a veteran, I have top secret clearance, I’m double degreed...and they still ask if I have IT certificates.”

“Refugees have experience as engineers and professionals – but to transfer that skill to the U.S. is hard. The evaluation and licensing process takes too long here; they don’t want to take a job below what they had and below their experience, so they stay unemployed.”

The chasm between the haves and the have-nots is most obvious when opportunity and skills don’t align. In a world changed by the economic downturn, entire industries have left San Diego, while others have moved in, asking for different aptitudes and attitudes. An educational, financial and occupational gap has resulted, leaving both old and new scrambling to adjust to the new normal.

“The labor pool has shortened significantly – no one is offering the skill trade we need. We have to train in-house. I’d like to see education on these types of skills, so we don’t have to lower the qualification for that.”






“Access to higher education has become a problem that will impact our community because lack of funding is closing doors. Access is diminishing. That lack of education will take a toll on underemployment and sustainable work…”

“Education leads to a better job, which leads to better insurance, which leads to better quality of life. For example, I was able to get a specific type of surgery, and another family member was not because of the health insurance they had. Quality of care is related to the type of job you have.”


Nowhere is the intersection of education, financial selfsufficiency and health more apparent to people than when it comes to financial insolvency. This vicious cycle that keeps a family one crisis, one paycheck, one unexpected expense away from disaster braids these three issues together. Consider this: The number one cause of bankruptcies is medical expense. We heard that without education – whether a degree, a certificate or just knowledge about how money works – a family never learns how to earn or save those earnings. Without necessary income, basic needs can’t be met – rent, food, child care, car costs – for an individual, a couple, or a family. And without health…what kind of life is that? Health is not an isolated issue; it, too, is woven into the fabric of everyday life. Enough education and sustaining employment are necessary to maintain quality health care coverage as well as a healthy lifestyle. Job loss impacts all of life’s essentials – not just layoffs and foreclosures but insurance and health care. Many parents must make tough decisions about where to spend their money: dental care or day care, medicine or car maintenance. “I take two medications and the doctor says, ‘Do you want to take this one or that one? Insurance won’t pay for both.’ Yesterday I borrowed a pill from my neighbor but I thought, how long is this going to last?”

San Diegans have real concerns that need representation. Everyone wants to feel heard. “It’s really sad. Our culture blames people for their circumstances. It’s your fault you are poor. Advocacy work and public policy work should focus on that and change the face of this.” Though we applaud the county’s efforts to improve efficiency through electronic screening, many in our region won’t be able to benefit. One caseworker notes, “None of my clients knows how to use computers, but the County wants all of these people getting benefits to use the website. They need a system where clients can call to find out status.” In fact, the online website ( is only one way to get information and access benefits. Customers can also call 2-1-1, ACCESS (866) 262-9881 or go to their local Family Resource Center to find out the status of their benefits. What else can local officials, nonprofits, businesses and ordinary citizens do to help those without a voice? A lot. From changing the language we use to name the issue, to being less judgmental about our neighbor’s circumstances, to providing people with the tools and resources to move themselves along the path to self-sufficiency, to helping them navigate an ever-changing, complex system. To help make this a reality for more San Diegans, we must acknowledge the very real impact of costs such as child care, transportation and medical expenses. Success can be measured when people become self-reliant, eventually living without public assistance, not just subsisting above the poverty line. Getting people out of “poverty” – earning more than $10,890 per year – should not be what we consider success. We clearly heard from the community that success is having enough money to make ends meet and plan for the future.

Median household income in 2009

“You’ve got parents working two and three jobs and still not able to make ends meet. For many of these families, just getting their kids to school each day is a success. These are responsible, caring parents. They’re the good ones. They are doing everything they can to keep a roof over their heads and put food on the table for their children. And yet that’s not how they’re treated and viewed…


“You’ve got 10-year-olds staying home from school to take care of 6-year-olds because their parents have to work. They don’t have a choice. And then suddenly Child Welfare is involved. There are so many layers. It just doesn’t end.”


Households below Poverty

CA 9.5%

SD 8.5%

Below Standard, above Poverty (“gap population”)

CA 21.4%

SD 21.9%

Total Households below Standard

CA 31%

SD 30.3%

However, when we read that 8.5% of San Diego is in poverty, that doesn’t capture the true scope of those who are struggling. Thirty percent live below the standard in San Diego.









$44,680 (one adult, one infant)



$57,332 (one adult, one infant, one preschooler)



$64,295 (one adult, one infant, one preschooler)



As the table at left shows, a significant income gap exists between FPL and what it takes to stay afloat. A continuum of self-sufficiency stretches over a financial lifetime, starting from a first job at 16 and continuing through college or a career. We need to cultivate and support “soft skills” that equip everyone with tools for 21st-century success. In addition to financial skills, job skills, and training, today’s workforce demand a certain social savvy: How to shake hands. How to present. How to interview. These skills are also what it means to be truly workforce ready. One caseworker reports, “A lot of families don’t have social cues. They don’t know how to answer the phone or take a message. They don’t know how to answer an interview question. Even their general conversation would be inappropriate. They don’t know the boundaries. We model (behaviors), but we aren’t sure if they are learning them. It’s a battle to get them to adopt these.”

WHAT IT ALL MEANS People need jobs that match available employment….this could mean building on skills they already have or training for new employment through classes and workshops, while cultivating soft skills – such as interviewing, resume-writing, or even a proper handshake. People need supports – like child care and transportation, to get to those interviews and jobs. How do you qualify for low-interest car loans or become eligible for other benefits, like CalFresh or CalWorks or the Child Tax Credit? People need to understand more easily how to get the help that’s out there. One resource is 211, which provides access and information referral to help San Diegans in need navigate to the right place. In addition to information about basic needs, 211 also helps people learn what benefits they may be eligible for and helps them apply electronically. People need advocates – individuals, local officials, businesses and other organizations can advocate for a simpler system, family friendly policies, internships and other key supports.

Training and degree programs are key to moving individuals from benefit-dependent to self-sufficiency. But we heard that many training programs and certificates don’t necessarily lead to jobs. Creating relevant training programs in partnership with employers who have an identified need is part of the answer. In addition, other factors – transportation, child care, job skills – allow employees to take advantage of new job opportunities or promotions. When people aren’t preoccupied with concerns like child care, they become more reliable employees in terms of attendance and job satisfaction. It’s not easy for families to manage personal lives, work schedules and training programs. Parents must prioritize their children’s needs over attending night school, so education has to match the needs of the population it serves: flexible scheduling, transportation, child care and employer policies can ease the demands on participants’ time and increase the chances of success.

“She has a husband and two daughters. She has two jobs, her husband is not working, her daughters are full-time students [with] full-time jobs. The whole family worked out a budget plan to work to be stable – it takes the whole family to work toward one goal. It’s a sacrifice for all. They may not have everything but they are fine.”

Helping to create solid, skilled, self-sufficient adults means starting with youth and creating opportunity for their futures. It all starts with a basic proficiency in reading and math and builds into bolstering students’ financial awareness while readying them for the workplace with soft skills, such as resume development and interview skills. On a parallel path, adults need to supplement their skills to become more valuable employees, boosting their value through job skills development, certification and training programs.


“At times it’s very depressing. [There are] so many social concerns and not enough time and resources. At the same time, I’m feeling more hopeful. A lot of energy and a lot of great people [are] working on homelessness. We are seeing some successes. Hopeful, concerned, worried, but if we can stick together and keep pressure on where the decisions are made, then we can make progress.” “I tried to get benefits: I took all the documents they wanted me to – my bank statements, check stubs. Some of the workers there were rude, like I was taking money from their pockets. I felt uncomfortable.”

“A lot of money and resources …goes to the extremes. We have no systems for normal people.”

Continuing education and adult basic education are critical to success, especially for those who didn’t graduate from high school and need their GED, or graduated without really grasping the essentials of reading, writing, and math. A variety of educational and enrichment programs are available for adults, including, basic education and literacy and English as a Second Language (ESL).

We Must Continue To Simplify The System For those San Diegans who don’t comprehend the “red tape talk” of federal and state programs, accessing resources is frustrating and demoralizing. One participant in Logan Heights said, “They make it so difficult with all these procedures and paperwork. It’s a hassle.” Another participant suggested “some kind of a central site, for the community in general, where people can find these organizations to help them. There is so much info out there; we need a more concise way to go and get it.” Many San Diegans confront these confusing, complicated systems and give up. They can’t risk the time and the potential loss. “To get a child care subsidy, the client has to wait in line and through orientations and she has two jobs. She doesn’t have the time to sit through all this because she’ll lose her two jobs.” United Way’s collaboration with community partners has helped simplify the system for locals, making it easier to navigate benefits so more people can access support and benefits.

Communicate About Improvements Already Made In recent years, the County of San Diego has moved towards simplifying policies and procedures to access public benefits, but there are different applications for different benefits. The state requires a variety of applications and regulations, making a difficult situation for low-income residents even more challenging. Not surprisingly, many lowincome residents aren’t aware of these supports, and if they are, they avoid them either because the system is too complicated or it compromises some other aspect of their already challenged lives.


Urgently Address The Issues Of Those “Working Hard But Falling Short” When families can’t afford even basic expenses, it affects their ability to provide child and health care, cover transportation, and deal with unforeseen expenses, let alone offer the emotional stability necessary to keep families intact. Unstable families mean an unstable community.

“Unless you seek it out, or you know someone to [help you] cut through the red’s hard to collect what you have coming when the system is so mixed up.”

As a leader in the San Diego countywide Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) Coalition, United Way helps provide free tax preparation services for low-income working families and individuals. Recently, the Coalition expanded its focus to include screening for public benefits (some state, some Federal), such as such as CalFresh (formerly known as food stamps), WIC, CalWorks and other supports. The county partnered with 211 to allow people to apply over the phone, and they have a website where people can apply and update their forms regularly.

“[I worry about] not having enough to cover all expenses. I work but always have to make choices [about] what to pay and not pay.”

With these critical challenges in mind, our vision is clear: To help San Diegans get enough money to make ends meet and plan for the future. Here’s how: • Connect eligible individuals and families to benefits, like tax credits and Cal Fresh (food stamps), by getting the word out about where and how to sign up for income supports. • Increase access to free and low-cost tax preparation services and screening for other supports. • Help streamline enrollment and access by working with the county to simplify and improve processes. • Provide soft skills, such as resume development and interviewing skills, to youth and adults. • Encourage enrollment in and completion of degree, certification and training programs that meet employers’ needs. • Increase youth and adult knowledge of budgeting, savings, credit and taxes, and asset building. • Provide transportation assistance, child care and other supports to help workers keep their jobs or advance their careers.


“…Without this program I wouldn’t have been able to do what I’m doing now. I’m starting my business; I learned from the tools I learned here. If I’d had that in high school I wouldn’t have been in prison over and over.” “You have to overcome stress and think positive; you get worse if you keep thinking about being depressed.”

“It’s finally taking that step and getting involved; you do have an impact in your local community; I can do something in my neighborhood; then you have these strings of people doing this in many communities…”


United Way can focus on those who are transitioning to self-sufficiency This “gap” population – those families not poor enough to qualify for benefits, but certainly not making ends meet – is faced with tough choices and moral dilemmas when deciding where their money will go. This population, which falls in the gap between those who qualify for benefits and those who are self-sufficient, is large and continues to grow. Much of UWSD’s current work addresses this population by offering tools and resources for this group to gain the skills they need to improve their lives. Bright Futures, for youth and adults, with its financial literacy and job-skills training, as well as Ways to Work’s low-income loans accompanied by financial education classes, target those who are committed to creating better futures for themselves and their children.

Meet Fred

Meet Alicia

A Vietnam veteran, Fred had been homeless for five years, previously had a car repossessed and was unable to get a loan for a new one. But today, through a national program coordinated through United Way, Fred is driving a 2003 Mazda-6, which he bought with a $7,000 loan with nothing down, at 8 percent interest. If he were able to qualify on his own, his interest rate could be triple that. Now, it takes him 15 minutes to get to and from work, get to school on time and even visit his 14-year-old daughter in Encinitas.

Alicia spent four months living in the shelter, and while she was there, she took every financial literacy class that was offered. “It was not easy. But I learned how to drive, I filed for divorce, I got my immigration papers through the program for women of domestic violence. After five years I had to show I was able to support myself without getting assistance.”


“There were several times that I was very discouraged and I thought I was never going to be able to make it. Being a single mom and making so little money, I thought it was not a possibility for me,” she says. “I just had to push through.”

“It allows me to finish work and be able to go straight down to City College and take the classes that I want to take and not worry about getting out at 9:30 and missing the bus. The car makes a big difference in allowing me to accomplish the goals that I do want to accomplish.”

With the help of United Way-funded financial education classes, which taught her how to save money, she put away $100 a month. Her down-payment increased until she had enough to buy herself a condo. A community housing program matched her down payment, but saving up still wasn’t easy.



“I do a lot of community outreach because I love my urban community, but their voices are not being heard. There’s too much paperwork. People need help immediately, but that’s not happening. There needs to be an agency to hold people accountable.” “I was once active as a volunteer with 211. It taught me a lot about what was going on.”

“Forums and forums and forums and nothing happens. Everyone is forming; it’s a cool thing to do. But nothing happens.”


Technology can help improve people’s situation Technology is part of the answer to address the very human issues that limit access to information and opportunity. The city and the county of San Diego have made significant strides to increasing access and making systems simpler to use. • Agencies whose procedures overlap have begun sharing data, increasing the efficiency between support systems across the region. • Individuals and caseworkers can review and renew benefits online, cutting down on travel time, day care costs and other red-tape time consuming trips to several offices. This convenience affords parents and families more time with each other or to deal with more pressing issues, like school, work, medical appointments. • 2-1-1 San Diego - Imagine you need help. Now imagine trying to make your way through 2,000 community agencies providing 5,000 health and human service programs. 211 provides access and information referral to help San Diegans in need navigate to the right resource. Whether it’s where to find food and housing, how to deal in a disaster or how to help a child or aging parent, 211 offers confidential assistance in 150 languages. Their partnership with the County also allows individuals to submit benefit applications electronically, helping those who are disabled, elderly and homebound or lack transportation. This is a good example of recent County efforts to simplify the system and make it easier and quicker for clients to get enrolled in these helpful programs.

Like any change, the path from financial struggle to selfsufficiency takes time. Starting steps build toward small victories and ultimate success. And they affect all aspects of an individual’s life: the necessary education to go to college and then build a career, which leads to the necessary income to support a family, afford health care, stay healthy,and keep families solvent and safe so they don’t end up on the streets. All change begins with awareness: recognizing the need for change. A financial management class, a credit-building program, learning job skills or how to save and budget. Before long: a savings account, working debts down and FICO scores up. Next, a promotion, a new job, enough money saved for a down-payment on a house. For youth, it means learning about possible careers through mentoring and job coaching, developing the skills to interview, present, write resumes and find their way into the marketplace. It all starts with learning how to change and applying that knowledge consistently.

“Families that have had financial education and have some savings – they have a sense that they can do something else: ‘I can help my kids.’ They have control and hope for the future. They have dreams and they think they can accomplish them.”

We need to recognize steps along the way to self-sufficiency. It’s a journey.

“Teach yourself how to communicate with people: do an interview, [learn] how to walk, talk and shake hands. I didn’t know how to posture my step until they showed me. I thought I knew how to shake hands – break their hand! – But I didn’t know.”


“Research shows that child care is often a family’s biggest expense. Parents are forced to make tough choices. With provided child care, employees can maintain or increase their income with more on-the-job focus and opportunity.”

“If they have a car or child care, they get less benefits. [They] look at a 15-year old car as an asset – but it breaks down every other week. Is that an asset? Now they can’t get [benefits]. Transportation would become a huge barrier. If you had to ride the bus two hours to and from work because of no car, then you lose the quality of time with your family and children. It’s bad for everyone.”

People Are Looking For Advocates To Step Up There was a clear cry for help in addressing the issues we heard about. Residents saw a need for different members of the community to serve particular roles. Research shows that child care is often a family’s biggest expense. Parents are forced to make tough choices. With provided child care, employees can maintain or increase their income with more on-the-job focus and productivity. Community leaders can make or change policies to help employees meet the demands of child care. Employers can work with parents to make sure they can attend to their children’s needs without endangering their employment status. What if your child has a dentist appointment, but you’re docked for that time? Parents that work the night shift may want to attend parent-teacher conference night, but they can’t. The teacher thinks they aren’t engaged, but the reality is they can’t miss work, or can’t leave their kids home without child care. People may feel limited, based on what they’ve heard, where there may be latitude. CalFresh, for example, does not use vehicles when determining assets, whereas most Medi-Cal programs exclude the vehicle with the highest equity from their determinations. Agencies and other nonprofits can help the public access information and benefits. Advocates can speak out on issues, such as child care or mental health, and spread the word about progress being made and how everyone can help.

Businesses can offer internships for youth, coach or mentor students to prepare them for the work world, provide jobtraining for employees or help with transportation (shuttles) or onsite child care. Volunteers can assist with mock interviews, resume writing and assisting with tax preparation. Working individuals can educate themselves through degree programs, training and career coaching as well as peer support. They can also take advantage of financial literacy programs that are already available. 24

Community leaders: improve policies and systems Engage employers to create a pipeline of future employees by training people for jobs that are currently needed in San Diego.

Business – provide job training, internships, mentoring, transportation, child care Generate workplace loyalty by offering perks that keep employees challenged, productive and able to care for their families without sacrificing their careers.

Agencies and other nonprofits – help the public access services, benefits and training Simplify the system so that more of the population that needs help can get help.

Advocates: speak out on issues and spread the word Everyone has a voice and everyone has a passion. Begin by educating yourself on the issues you care about. Share what you know with others and stake a claim for what matters.



“The bus routes don’t get you where you need to be. They don’t go where the jobs are. And the bus takes forever. Public transportation does not serve our members the way they need.”

“People need jobs, but without access to child care, transportation and housing, it’s next to impossible to get or keep them.”

How do we equip individuals with the extra knowledge and capacity to work within the system? We must help students secure internships that will prepare them for real-world experience or vocational training that will equip them with a skilled trade. Moving youth and adults forward into self-sufficiency also means teaching them the hard and soft skills they’ll need to survive and thrive in society. These are some of the ways in which United Way is helping youth and adults move to self-sufficiency.

Affordable Transportation Ways to Work is an innovative economic empowerment program that provides financial education and short-term, affordable loans to working families with challenging credit histories. Most people use their loan to purchase a reliable pre-owned vehicle, enabling them to remain employed and better manage their lives. The local program, launched by United Way and the Leichtag Foundation, is the first of its kind in Southern California. The pilot has a first-year goal of 80 to 100 loans.

Bright Futures helps low- to moderate-income families move toward economic stability. Varying program levels serve the needs of working families, individuals and teens. Participants gain not only financial literacy and individual coaching but also critical jobs skills. Skills taught include money management and debt management, resume writing and mock interviewing. Additionally, free tax preparation and benefits screening is available to explore other sources of support.

Financial Education & Job Skills Training

“Day care is too expense. If you’re making $16 per hour and being charged $8 per hour for day care, then you’re just making minimum wage now.”

Accessible Child care The demand for child care in San Diego exceeds the supply. San Diego County has a documented shortage of spaces available in licensed child care programs, especially for children requiring subsidized care. In 2010, more than 5000 children were on a wait list for openings (YMCA Child care Resource Service, November 2010). Additionally, there is a significant shortage of infant child care services across all income levels. Lack of child care services prevents parents from seeking employment. Furthermore, the cost of child care is prohibitive for low and middle-income families. For low-income households, child care costs can represent nearly one-third of their family income. Beginning in 2010, we started reaching out to the community to hear, first hand, about their aspirations and concerns. Last year’s “kitchen-table” conversations focused on financial self-sufficiency. We talked to hundreds of individuals, including those living in cars, people on the brink of poverty, those struggling to find a way out of debt, the agencies working to help them, and employers looking to hire.


ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS Thank you to all the generous San Diegans whose voices are echoed in this report. Our goal is to make sure they help inform a better financial future for all San Diegans. We also want to thank Shaina Gross, United Way’s Vice President, Impact Strategies & Mobilization, for facilitating this project. Special thanks to Bank of America’s Senior Vice President Judy Forrester and San Diego Market President Rick Bregman. And our gratitude to Bank of America for underwriting this endeavor and allowing us to reflect back to the San Diego community what its citizens are saying about financial stability.

About United Way of San Diego County United Way of San Diego County is part of a network of nearly 1,800 community-based United Ways around the world. Locally, United Way is creating sustainable change in the areas of education, income, health and homelessness. In addition to the Bright Futures financial self-sufficiency initiative, we are leading the effort to end chronic homelessness through Home Again, a public engagement campaign, and Project 25, which focuses on the most costly and vulnerable homeless individuals. United Way is a key partner in a number of Education initiatives throughout the county. We harness the collective power of nonprofits, community leaders and thousands of individuals to create change by giving, advocating and volunteering. LIVE UNITED is a call to action for everyone to get involved. To learn more, visit, our Blog, Facebook and Twitter.


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Community Conversation Guide The Harwood Institute for Public Innovation The Harwood Institute, founded and led by Richard C. Harwood, works with individuals, organizations and communities to turn outward and engage in community in a different way to develop their ability to make more intentional choices and judgments that lead to impact. The Institute is one of United Way Worldwide’s signature partners for the Campaign for the Common Good and is working to accelerate the efforts of United Ways to build deeper relationships in communities and create lastng changes in education, income and health.

About United Way Worldwide United Way is a worldwide network in 40 countries and territories, including more than 1,200 local organizations in the U.S. It advances the common good, creating opportunities for a better life for all by focusing on the three key building blocks of education, income and health. United Way recruits people and organizations who bring the passion, expertise and resources needed to get things done. LIVE UNITED® is a call to action for everyone to become a part of the change. For more information about United Way, please visit:

San Diego Research Center for Urban Economics and Design at University of California San Diego

Writing and Editing for San Diego Report Sue Greenberg and Angela Titus, United Way of San Diego County


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© 2013 United Way of San Diego County

Voices for the Common Good: San Diego Speaks Out on Opportunity  
Voices for the Common Good: San Diego Speaks Out on Opportunity  

This OPPORTUNITY REPORT offers a compilation of everyday San Diegans’ opinions, aspirations and frustrations about financial self-sufficienc...