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California's economy remains locked in recession and wages have been stagnant, but nevertheless living costs - especially taxes - have risen. That's putting a squeeze on many families, according to a new county-by-county compilation of the "true cost of living."

The report from the Oakland-based Insight Center for Community Economic Development provides statistical ammunition not only for advocates of raising minimum wages and other steps to aid the poor, but for conservative anti-tax groups since the center found that taxes are the largest single element in living cost increases.

The study was designed as an alternative to the commonly used federal poverty standard, which critics say does not take into account the real costs of living. It updates a report previously issued in 2008, and found that double-digit increases in living costs are common throughout the state.

"The Self-Sufficiency Standard...provides us with a true picture of the needs within the communities we serve, informs how we tailor our approaches to increasing financial stability and helps us measure progress toward our collective goals," Peter Manzo, president of United Ways of California, said in a statement accompanying release of the report. "We believe that to build financial stability, you have to see and address all the issues including health, education, and income."

The Self-Sufficiency Standard is used by United Way and other charitable and social service groups, but also by labor unions. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) used it to win a higher wage floor for University of California workers, pointing out that 93 of UC's service workers did not earn enough to meet the standard.

The standard embraces housing, food, child care, health care, transportation and other basic costs and is calculated for 156 different family compositions. For a family of two adults, one pre-schooler and one school-age child, for instance, the income needed to meet those basic costs rose from $58,251 in 2008 to $69,529 in 2011.

In Fresno County, the respective numbers were $47,706 and $59,967, in Los Angeles County $58,659 and $72,833, in Sacramento County $54,189 and $62,692, in San Diego County $59,450 and $70,671 and in Santa Clara County $68,430 and $83,640.

Taxes were the cost item that increased the most over the three-year period, the study found, rising an average of 29 percent, followed by health care at 27 percent and child care at 22 percent.


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