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What it really costs to live in the Bay Area

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The numbers behind 24/7 Wall Street’s designation of SF as the U.S.’s most expensive city

San Francisco buildings, with a high-rise with a crenelated facade in the foreground and an orange suspension bridge across the bay in the background. Via Shutterstock

Last week, 24/7 Wall Street published a report estimating the cost of living in major American cities relative to local incomes. To the surprise of few, the report ranked San Francisco and parts of the Bay Area as the most expensive place in the U.S.

San Jose came in a close second.

Writers Michael Sauter and Grant Suneson “reviewed estimates from financial think tank the Economic Policy Institute on what it would cost a single adult or a family of four (two parents and two children) to have a ‘modest yet adequate standard of living’” in cities like SF.

In San Francisco, the 24/7 writers estimate a monthly living cost of $5,194 (including $1,742 in housing costs), or a cost of $11,165 for a family of four.

The same formula estimates an average monthly individual income of just $4,206 per month for one person, and $10,039 for families—the makings of quite a deficit on average.

A few important things to note: First, these estimates figures are from 2017. Second, these numbers are not just for San Francisco but for the much larger SF-Oakland-Berkeley metro area (also called the SF-Oakland-Hayward area by the census), which includes not only those three cities but all of Alameda, San Mateo, Marin, and Contra Costa counties.

For comparison, the Mayor’s Office of Housing estimated in 2017 a median one-person income of $80,700 per year in SF, or $6,725 per month. For a family of four, it was $9,608,

By 2019, those numbers rose to $7,183 and $10,262, respectively.

San Francisco has higher incomes on average than most other Bay Area cities. For Oakland in 2019, a single person’s average median income came to $6516 per month, For a four-person household, it came to $9,308.

In Berkeley those numbers were roughly $7,187 for one person, $8,870 for four.

For 2018, EPI’s family budget calculator projects a monthly living cost of $11,777 for SF County, and $10,160 for all of Alameda County. Estimates for 2019 aren’t available yet.

Those calculations are in 2017 dollars, so adjusting for inflation today (using the Bureau of Labor Statistic’s inflation formula), those number rise to $12,306 in SF and $10,616 in Alameda.

Finally, note that 24/7’s monthly housing cost estimate of $1,742 per month is very close to the median rent provided in 2017 census estimates of $1,709 in San Francisco, $1,255 in Oakland, and $1,523 in Berkeley.