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The Real Cost of Raising Kids in the City

I have this recurring nightmare. It began about 12 years ago, when I gave birth to my second child and I realized just how complex my life had become. Of course, it got even scarier—the nightmare, that is—when I popped out our third child nine years ago, and my window of productivity shrank even more.

Maybe you’ve had this bad dream, yourself. If so, you know what I’m about to say. The nightmare is simply this: Something awful happens to my husband, and I become the main breadwinner for our three-kid household.

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I always tell myself I’d ramp up somehow, and we’d find a way to simply get by on less. But a new report issued by the Economic Policy Institute has just confirmed my worst fears. Los Angeles, our hometown, is pricey, and I can’t afford it on my own.

According to the EPI’s Family Budget Calculator, a family of two adults and three children in the LA-Long Beach metro area would need an annual minimum income of $92,312 to live “free of serious economic deprivation.” And LA isn’t even the most expensive area in the country. New York City costs more. So does Orange County, just a few miles to my south. Still, my city’s costly enough for me. Here, specifically, is how the EPI calculator breaks that Los Angeles number down:

Monthly Housing


Monthly Food


Monthly Child Care


Monthly Transportation


Monthly Health Care


Monthly Other Necessities


Monthly Taxes


Monthly Total


Annual Total


(Numbers courtesy of the EPI’s Family Budget Calculator)

If this gives any of you pause, it should. First off, it confirms what many of us recall from adolescence—McDonald’s jobs are for teenagers. That’s because only a teenager, with the comforts of home at her back, can manage to get by on $15,080, the annual salary for a full-time, minimum wage worker (according to the EPI’s calculator, that's $4,468 short of our family’s minimum health care bill, alone). It also calls into question the federal poverty threshold, at least in Los Angeles. The government currently defines poverty as $27,570 for a family of five.

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The U.S. Census recently came up with a “supplemental poverty measure” that takes into account the higher cost of living in certain parts of the country. Utilizing this lens, California’s official 2012 poverty rate surged from 16.3 percent to 23.5 percent. However, the SPM has no bearing on eligibility for federal benefits, which are determined by the lower poverty numbers mentioned earlier, and it does not take into account wide variations that can occur even in places like California. Up north, in rural Redding, for instance, the calculator estimates we’d pay $500 less in rent; one county over, in Ventura, our rent would jump by about $150.

So if you live in a big city, and you wonder why the income that sounded so bountiful years ago (back in your pre-child days) suddenly seems like it does less than you’d imagined, well, you have reason to think so. Kids are expensive, and exponentially more so in America’s wealthiest metropolitan areas.

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