median income san francisco

Median Income San Francisco- The Good and the Bad

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Have you ever wondered about the median income San Francisco?  Let’s discuss…

You’ve heard the rumors, and they are true.  It sure is expensive to live in San Francisco!  Why?  

One factor contributing to the exorbitantly high cost of living is that the wealthiest 1% of San Francisco residents earn an average of over $425,000 a year.   Most of these are employed by nearby Silicon Valley, home to many of the world’s biggest engineering firms. These tech companies are enticing engineers and executives here with fantastic salaries and other valuable incentives.  

This in turn is dramatically pushing up the cost of living for the entire area.  This is driving much of San Francisco’s wealth. 

We discussed in another article on how to find salary information for California. So it is fairly easy to locate exact salary data for Californians living in San Francisco.

According to the dictionary, a median value is a value at the midpoint of an overall group of numbers.  So keep that in mind as we are speaking about income numbers in this article.

Since there are many employees in San Francisco making ‘big bank’ working for the aforementioned tech companies, you would think that the median income for this area would be high. And you are correct! 

But while the median income in San Francisco is indeed above the American national average, the higher cost of living there sometimes defies logic. 

As mentioned earlier, when we speak median, we are referring to the ‘middle of the pack’.  In the case of San Francisco, this means that half the employees here earn above what the median income is and the other half make less than half.

Median income San Francisco
Graphic by BBC

The United States Census includes all those living in one household unit when they measure household income.  To them, a household unit can refer to a college dorm house or a family household. This is how economists measure income as well; because persons within households share their living costs. 


At the time of this writing, San Francisco has a median income of $96,265.00 for households. 

For individuals, the median income is at $74,841.00 based on figures from the American Community Survey Five Year Estimates of the Census Bureau for 2013-2017.   Another Census survey puts the San Francisco median income as high as $120,470.00 in 2017.

Real Median Family Income: San Francisco, California, National

Graphic from Dept of Numbers

Those figures include the gross revenue prior to taxation and other deductions. 

To break this down, we can look at the mean income, which includes income for everyone 16 years of age and older. The household average mean income in San Francisco is $137,761.00 and $103,124 for individuals. 

Mean profit is valuable to look at because all the data details are included. 

With 99 baristas and 1 billionaire in the total population, the average would tell us about the out-sized income. On the other hand, this data would make everyone look richer, (when they’re actually not) as it does not correct for extreme data such as in the case of median income. 

In San Francisco the third way to consider the salary per capita income is $59,508. This is the average income for all people over the age of 16.  It is slightly lower than the rest, as it also includes people who are not working. 


As of 2017, the household average national earnings was $61,372.00.  This is well below the median household income of San Francisco of $96,265.00.

As San Francisco’s average salary is far greater than the domestic average, the Golden State may seem a particularly lucrative location. 

Map of earnings in United States by metropolitan area
Graphic from BBC

Nevertheless, the much higher living costs must be taken into account. In general, the cost of housing is particularly high.

San Francisco is the city which requires the highest income to cover rent costs according to one study of income necessary to rent in the largest city of America. 

The monthly average rent for an apartment of 2 bedrooms in San Francisco is around $4,400.00. 

So we can predict that you will have to make an annual salary of almost $188,000.00 to pay $52,600 of the rent per year. 

By way of comparison, that’s about $25,000 more money to rent in New York City, another notoriously costly village to rent a double bedroom. In contrast, you need to make just under $33,000 to rent a typical two-bedroom in Memphis, Tennessee.

It’s no longer affordable to buy a home in San Francisco. According to a 2017 SmartAsset survey you will have to earn about 128,600 dollars for the San Francisco median home payments, based on a salary required to make home payments. The total monthly home middle value payments in San Francisco will be around $3,858 on average. 

Much higher are the costs of food, housing and transport, further adding to the true cost of San Francisco living. 

Some Important Sad Facts….!

What are some important sad facts we learn by examining earnings data of San Francisco? 

Firstly, poverty in the Golden City is a major problem. One of the problems with mean income calculations is that it can skew toward extreme values, especially at the top end.

A small number of people who make a huge amount of money can make an area look better than it is. 

SF Indicator Project

Surely in San Francisco the gap is almost twice as wide in the Bay Area as in other parts of the country between median individual income and average individual income. This is basically the case. 

High-end incomes put everyone in the dust, and this means that you are in actuality considered poor if you aren't rich in San Francisco. 

The U.S. government’s officially considered low income families who are earning less than $117,000 in San Francisco. This is because the living costs there are exorbitant in relation to the rest of the U.S.  

Housing and food costs are so high that a four-person household matches the “very low income” prerequisite when the total income is $73,300.  Also, a person begins to receive public support when they earn less than $82,200.

Image by David Mark from Pixabay 

Surely teachers  in San Francisco make good money right?  Umm… not so much!

A teacher in San Francisco had an average base salary of $58,585 per year (at the time of this writing). The government also sees this as a wage at near-poverty level as less than three quarters. With $52,886 annually, firefighters also earn less. 

Although these are respectful incomes — in fact above the median — in other parts of the nation (and the world!), in a city where studio apartments cost $2,500+ a month, these are not viable salaries to survive on in San Francisco.

It’s worth noting though that high prices are something that most people want to pay for a good quality of life. 

San Francisco is definitely a very costly place to live, but many people are attracted by good weather and rich cultural life. 

In the US, areas with higher quality of life, such as San Francisco and Santa Barbara in California and Honolulu in Hawaii, are notorious for high living costs.  

While you may not consider six-figure earnings households as “low-income” in the broadest sense, pricey cities across the US still have the challenge of finding ways to give all their inhabitants a good quality of life. 

One obvious point to begin with may be taking a critical look at how to make housing more affordable!

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