Construction continues for the Alpha Project's Alpha Square. The new apartment complex will provide housing for low and very low income residents. Photo by Brad Racino

Income inequality has captured the national conversation in an unprecedented way as the economy continues to recover from the Great Recession. For proof, just look at “Capital in the Twenty-First Century,” a 700-page treatise and Amazon best-seller on income inequality by a little-known French economist.

Here, at inewsource, we believe that data aren’t just facts. They tell stories about who we are as a community. So, we wanted to know what part of San Diego County has the highest (and lowest) income inequality — or the neighborhood with the biggest gap between the haves and the have-nots.  To find that, we used the Census Reporter visualization tools and the 2012 American Community Survey data.

First, a word on our methodology: To judge income inequality, we used the Gini coefficient. That’s a number between 0 and 1 that measures how close a population’s income distribution is to perfect income equality — or where everyone essentially earns the same income. The bigger the number, the more unequal income distribution is. The Gini coefficient is generally considered the go-to measure of income inequality.

Selecting the most equal and unequal ZIP codes in the county also required some judgment calls to account for statistical oddballs. For example, ZIP code 92055 has a really low Gini coefficient, but it’s far from a typical area of the county. It’s Camp Pendleton, where people 29 and younger make up 96 percent of the population and the average housing unit has 47 residents. We also removed from consideration ZIP codes with populations too small for us to draw fair comparisons.

Keep in mind we aren’t saying income equality is in itself a good or bad thing, and there’s no perfect level of income distribution. Germany and the Netherlands have lower income inequality than the U.S. But so do Afghanistan and Kazakhstan.

Still, San Diego City Council President Todd Gloria sees income inequality as an important economic issue for everyone in the city, on micro and macro economic levels.

“On the micro level, there are families that are struggling to make ends meet. And we know that roughly 38 percent of working San Diegans don’t earn enough to live in this town, regardless of what neighborhood you live in,” Gloria said.

With that, here are the ZIP codes with the lowest and highest income inequality in San Diego.

Lowest Income Inequality

ZIP code 91915

This Chula Vista suburb in Otay Ranch includes the Eastlake Greens community. It is sandwiched between the 125 South Bay Expressway to the west and the Lower Otay Lake to the east. (Full disclosure: I live in this ZIP code.) With a Gini coefficient of 0.30, it’s about as equal as Pakistan and Serbia.

Highest Income Inequality

ZIP code 92101

This neighborhood is in the heart of Downtown San Diego. Just north of Barrio Logan, it includes some parts of the airport and Balboa Park. Despite being smaller than 91915, it has much higher density and about 10,000 more residents. With a Gini coefficient of 0.55, it’s about as unequal as Brazil.


These two neighborhoods have several things in common. The median age for both areas is in the low- to mid-30s, about the same as California as a whole. Educational levels are also close — almost 51 percent of the people living in 92101 have a bachelor’s degree, about 7 percentage points more than in 91915. Where the two areas really differ is in race and ethnicity: 92101 is a primarily white neighborhood, while 91915 has a plurality of Hispanic residents with roughly the same number of whites and Asians.


The difference comes down to economics. Here, the numbers can be misleading. 92101 has a per-capita income of more than $48,000, compared to just above $30,000 in 91915. (California as a whole is just under $30,000.) 91915, on the other hand, has per-capita income of just over $30,000. If you think that means 91915 is a poorer area, think again. Median household income gives a polar opposite look at these two neighborhoods: 91915 has a median household income of more than $95,500 compared to just over $53,600 for 92101.

Per-capita income is everyone’s income divided by every man, woman and child in this ZIP code. Median household income means half of all households earn less than (and half earn more than) that amount.

Those seemingly contradictory numbers actually tell a clear story of two different neighborhoods. Half of 92101 residents make less than about $53,600, and one in four live below the poverty line. Only 31 percent of households are married couples, and most houses have just 1.6 people each. Meanwhile, most 91915 residents can be considered middle class — 74 percent of households earn between $50,000 and $200,000. Less than 3 percent of residents live below the poverty line. Four in five households are married couples, with an average of 3.5 people her house.

One possible reason why 92101 has a below average median income and above average in per-capita income are the wealthy residents. Despite only accounting for about 8 percent of residents, their income is so high they’re single-handedly making this part of Downtown San Diego a (statistically) high per-capita income neighborhood. On the other hand, 91915’s above average median household income is diluted into an average per-capita income by large family sizes.

Homes in Downtown San Diego are more expensive than they are in Chula Vista’s Eastlake Greens. The median price for an owner-occupied home in 92101 is about $459,000. That’s about 23 percent more than the median home price in 91915 (about $371,000). Here is the starkest difference between these two neighborhoods. In 91915, 80 percent of the people own the home they live in. In 92101, that number is reversed, with 76 percent of the people renting.

The contrast in housing options available in Downtown San Diego  is most obvious at the intersection of Market and 13th streets. On one corner is the 13th and Market luxury apartment building, where rents range from $1,800 for a studio to $3,500 for a two-bedroom unit. Brian Feldman, the building’s community director, said residents there have access to amenities such as a large fitness center, a club room with a Starbucks machine, pool tables and more.

Across the street, there’s construction under way for Alpha Square, the Alpha Project’s apartment complex for low and very low income people. Bob McElroy, president of the Alpha Project, said the apartments are a step up from the temporary housing units they replace. At Alpha Square, each apartment will feature its own bathroom and shower, air conditioning and a kitchenette.

Use the map below to find the Gini coefficient for your ZIP code and tell us in the comments if you think income inequality affects your neighborhood. Lighter colors indicate lower income inequality. Dark yellow and orange have the highest Gini coefficient numbers. Gini numbers less than 0.35 are relatively low, more than 0.50 is relatively high.

Leonardo Castañeda was a reporter and economic analyst for inewsource. To contact him with tips, suggestions or corrections, please email leocastaneda [at] inewsource [dot] org.

2 replies on “By the numbers: San Diego’s haves and have-nots”

  1. One of the areas that has fascinated me the most in San Diego is the Coronado bridge and what lies on each side of it. On one side, you have Coronado, where affluent white people live. On the other side of the Bridge lies Barrio Logan, where (mostly) low-income Hispanics live in an area of San Diego where pollution is rampant. What’s fascinating (to me at least) is how both extremes of the social-economic ladder live side-by-side, next to each other.

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