Employment & Income

How Are We Doing?

Employment received a thumbs down because although the San Diego County unemployment rate decreased significantly from 15.9% in the first quarter of 2020 to 8% in the fourth quarter 2020, it is still at its highest level since 2013. Local unemployment is lower than the state but higher than the United States.

Want to know more about what we're measuring?

thumbs down

Unemployment remained high throughout 2020

The unemployment rate in San Diego County in the second quarter of 2020 was 4.8 percentage points higher than it was during the peak of the recession in 2010. The COVID-19 pandemic led to hundreds of thousands of lost jobs across the region, but unemployment is steadily recovering towards pre-COVID levels.

The Professional and Business Services sector remained the job leader with nearly 260,000 employees. For more information on the industry classifications visit the United States Census Bureau.

The self-sufficiency standard (defined as the annual income working families need to meet their basic necessities) for a family with two adults and two school-age children has been steadily increasing since 2011. In 2019, the median income for families with children under 18 years old was $94,989, just slightly above the self- sufficiency standard of $94,895 observed in 2021. This means that nearly half of families in San Diego County do not earn enough to afford basic necessities. To find out how much income your household needs to cover basic living expenses in San Diego, use San Diego Workforce Partnership’s Basic Household Income Calculator.
Looking specifically at single parents, in 2019 female parents with children under 18 years old had a median annual income in the past 12 months of  $37,119. This was just over $30,000 below the Self Sufficiency Standard for one adult with one school-age child. By comparison, single males with children under 18 years old had a median annual income in the past 12 months of over $70,000. This is above the Self Sufficiency Standard annual wage.
There are significant disparities in income among racial/ethnic groups in San Diego. In 2018, the median household income among Asian and White residents was either higher or comparable to the countywide median income while it was lower for Native American, Latinx and Black San Diegans. The median household income for Black residents was roughly $25,000 less than White residents and nearly $42,000 less than Asian residents. Learn more about the history behind racial income disparities in San Diego.

Why Are Employment & Income Important?

High quality of life means the region boasts a thriving economy and a healthy environment accessible to all in the community.

  • Environment: Unemployment has a negative impact on the environment. Facing reduced income, unemployed individuals perceive economic issues as being more important than environmental issues in terms of quality of life.
  • Economy: Unemployment has a long lasting negative effect on individuals as well as the entire economy. Mental and physical health problems and decreased purchasing power are just a few examples.
  • Equity: Regional economic development depends on closing the educational and employment gap across income and ethnic groups. To stay competitive , San Diego needs to address the high cost of living and also provide opportunities for a diverse workforce. As highlighted by the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corporation, San Diego’s Hispanic population is the largest and fastest growing demographic, yet statistically face barriers to high-skilled and high wage positions in the innovation sector with only 15% holding a bachelor’s degree. 

Regional Response


Recent research by the San Diego Workforce Partnership has highlighted the inextricable link between high quality child care and a strong workforce in San Diego. A 2018 study showed that the need for affordable child care far exceeds the available spots in San Diego. In 2018, a child care subsidy plan, AB 377, expanded eligibility for child care subsidies to account for San Diego’s high cost of living. In response to COVID-19, the City of San Diego City Council approved $10 million in Federal CARES Act funding to provide childcare vouchers for essential workers and the County of San Diego Board of Supervisors approved $25 million CARES Act funding to support child care providers. More than 3,300 childcare providers were aided, helping to support 81,000 children in 90 zip codes across San Diego County.


Paving Great Futures is a local nonprofit dedicated to increasing the health and wealth of San Diego’s underserved communities in order for individuals to thrive socially, economically, and politically. They provide comprehensive work experience programs for young adults, people who struggle with substance abuse, and formerly incarcerated persons to develop competencies in entrepreneurship, financial literacy, job readiness, life skills, community service, and civic engagement. Funded by the United Way of San Diego County, the San Diego Worker Assistance Initiative is supporting low-wage workers and their families whose incomes have been negatively impacted.


In response to the volatile job market during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Leaders 20/20 young professionals network partnered with Sage Business & Education, a business consultancy with over ten years of experience, to host a workforce development series on topics such as elevator pitches, interview skills, and resume building.

U.S.-Mexico Border Region

Taking a broader, transnational view, unemployment in Tijuana, Baja California, San Diego, and California continued to decline in 2019 and were all below 2010 levels up until the COVID-19 pandemic. The unemployment rate continues to decrease in Tijuana and Baja California, unaffected by the coronavirus crisis. This is due to the medical and “maquiladora” industries being the most predominant sector in employment, some of which did not stop production. “Maquiladoras” refers to foreign-owned factories or manufacturing operations in Mexico that export its products to the country that owns the operation. A further detailed comparison between US and Mexico unemployment rates is difficult as collection methods and standardization techniques vary between the two jurisdictions.

What Are We Measuring?

We track the quarterly trend in unemployment rates in major urban counties, California, and the U.S. as reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Median incomes in the last 12 months are from the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey. The Self Sufficiency Standard is a project of the Center for Women's Welfare housed at the University of Washington. Mexican unemployment data is reported by the Mexican National Institute of Statistics and Geography (Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Geografía). We also track year-over-year change in employment in major industries and subsectors as defined by the North American Industry Classification System. Learn more about the data.