Column: America’s Finest City called one of worst for raising a family

Is San Diego one of the best places to raise a family — or isn’t it?

It depends on which study you rely upon and which criteria are measured.

An analysis released this month would make readers think twice about raising a family in Southern California.

The weather might be great, but the study from Real Estate Witch, a data analysis service of Clever Real Estate, came to far less sunny conclusions.

Its crunching of statistics from the 50 largest US metro areas puts San Diego and two other Southern California cities at the bottom of the list when it comes to raising a family. (Hartford, Conn., Milwaukee, Wis. and Providence, RI, in that order, were on the top).

Riverside and its surrounding area scored the lowest, followed by Los Angeles, then San Diego, taking 48th through 50th places.

But this analysis, unlike some others, did not take San Diego’s sunshine, air quality and some other factors into consideration.

A study on the same subject — “2022’s Best and Worst Places to Raise a Family” — released last month by WalletHub placed San Diego in sixth best place overall in its comparison of 180 US cities.

Unlike the June 6 Real Estate Witch study, the WalletHub rankings included a sub-category for “ideal weather,” which was assigned a quadruple weight factor. It also assessed recreation friendliness, whereas the real estate study incorporated only parks and their accessibility to families.

These studies’ disparate conclusions go to show that rankings need to be closely analyzed to consider the methodology and attributes that are most important to the people choosing to use them as a guide.

“WalletHub’s study weights its five overall categories equally, but our choice to put more of an emphasis on factors like economics — and less on factors like recreation — is probably more realistic and speaks more to what the average family’s daily concerns are,” explains Matt Brannon, who wrote the Real Estate Witch analysis.

“Our study puts a larger emphasis on affordability. San Diego not only has the third-highest cost of living, but the most expensive rent and second-most expensive house prices of any metro we reviewed. Those kinds of costs simply make moving to San Diego not an option for some families.”

It’s no secret that San Diego’s high cost of living and lack of affordable housing are negatives in such analyses. San Diego came in at 80th place in affordability in the WalletHub rankings.

On the Real Estate Witch list, San Diego dropped into last place for the relative cost of goods. The study noted that items for which the average household spends $100 cost $113.40 in San Diego.

“We don’t disagree that San Diego is an expensive place to live for all residents, not just families,” says Nicole Darling, city of San Diego communications director. “Addressing housing affordability is one of the top goals for the city and Mayor Gloria.”

But Darling also stresses that in other rankings, San Diego “ends up in the top for obvious reasons (our beaches, libraries, relatively low crime rates, attractions, food, binational relationships, weather, and so much more).”

For instance, in US News & World Report’s 2022-23 analysis of 150 metro areas, San Diego is ranked No. 12 in best places to live for quality of life

Clever Real Estate economist Danetha Doe says the company started publishing such studies about four years ago and produces two to three a month, often related to home prices and inflation.

“Our study concluded there are no bad cities to raise a child in America. That said, San Diego did sink toward the bottom of our rankings,” concludes Alyssa Evans, a spokeswoman for the Witch study.

Among its more striking findings was that San Diego has a home price-to-income ratio of 13 compared to Pittsburgh, which boasts the lowest average home price-to-income ratio of 3.2. The average for all the metro areas studied is 6.4.

San Diego got failing grades for lower-than-average literacy rates and lower high school graduation rates than many metro areas. (However, graduation rates and reading and math testing scores were based on statewide rather than local results.)

Raising a newborn in San Diego consumes about 20.6 percent of the median household income in contrast to Birmingham, Ala., which led the pack with an expenditure of only 10.1 percent of the median household income.

The high cost of raising a family here was underscored by a study released last summer by a group of 29 United Way organizations in California. It concluded that a San Diego County family of four needs an annual income of $93,032 to meet basic needs. By its measurement, nearly one in three families in the state struggle to make ends meet.

Peter Manzo, president and CEO of United Ways of California, explained that the organization’s study proved that far more California working families struggle to meet living costs than official government estimates would indicate.

The poverty level set by the federal government is far below what it needs to be in California to provide an accurate picture.

Can families still enjoy a comfortable life in San Diego? “Of course,” Brannon says, “but it takes more money to do so.”

That forecast is not surprising.

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