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$70,000 TO JUST GET BY CALIFORNIA'S WORKING FAMILIES MUST MAKE HARD CHOICES AND WORRY ABOUT THE FUTURE.

Byline: Dana Bartholomew Staff Writer

By the time John Patton reached 50, the man hailed as ``the best barber in L.A'' had hoped to have his own house, good health insurance and a few bucks in the bank for retirement.

But for many working families in Los Angeles County, high prices and low wages have thwarted the American dream, according to a study released today on the cost of living in California,

``For me, man, it's definitely week to week,'' said Patton, 48, the single father of a teenage son, as he finished up a flattop at Styles Ville Barbershop and Beauty Salon in Pacoima.

``All the luxuries, extras, can wait. I can't go to the movies right now, and it's OK. If it came down to buying some school clothes for my son or paying the cable bill, I'd buy the clothes.''

Patton's family is not alone.

According to the California Budget Project, it now costs $70,000 a year - nearly four times the federal poverty standard of $19,300 - for the average family of four with two working parents to pay the basic bills in Los Angeles County. For single parents with two kids, it costs $54,000.

Soaring housing and health care costs have working families struggling to afford rent, health insurance, child care and a $3-a-gallon gasoline tab, researchers for the California Budget Project found.

Like Patton, many live paycheck to paycheck - earning too much for government help but too little to squirrel money away for vacations, college tuition or retirement.

Many are also up to their necks in credit-card debt.

``It is expensive,'' said Angel Altamira, 30, who runs a mobile carwash from Palmdale to the San Fernando Valley to support his wife and two daughters. ``I'm thinking of moving to another state or going back to Mexico.''

Altamira, the family's sole breadwinner, earns about $42,000 a year. He managed to buy a modest home, but makes do without having health insurance, eating out or making high-end purchases such as big-screen TVs.

``The (price of) gasoline is going to kill me,'' he lamented, en route between car-washing addresses.

To make a modest living in Los Angeles County, a single adult must earn $25,000, a single parent with two kids must earn $54,000 to juggle in the extra cost of day care, and a working parent like Altamira with a stay-at-home spouse must earn $49,000 to make ends meet, according to the Sacramento-based researchers.

The report - ``Making Ends Meet: How Much Does it Cost to Raise a Family In California?'' - challenges federal poverty standards, which don't account for the runaway costs of child care or housing.

``Everybody has coping-strategy stories - parents with staggered work hours for child care, people who move in with their parents, people who go without health care and gamble they'll stay healthy, people who depend on credit-card debt,'' said Jean Ross, executive director of the California Budget Project, an independent think tank that studies how public policy affects low- and middle-class Californians.

``Many working families work from paycheck to paycheck.''

That means no extra money for vacations. None for college tuition for the kids. No cash for retirement. And nothing set aside for frills like cable TV - or even a new TV.

The 33-page study charts expenses for basic-living costs in 10 regions of California for single adults, single parents with two kids, families of four with one breadwinner and working parents with two children.

Family budgets included the cost of rent and utilities, child care, transportation, food, health coverage, taxes and such miscellaneous expenses and telephone and clothes.

Among the report's findings:

--The Los Angeles County family with both parents at the grindstone needed $69,670 - an average wage of $16.75 an hour for each spouse and a little less than the statewide average need of $71,377.

--The county breadwinner needed to earn $49,322, at $23.71 an hour, for a two-parent family in which one of the parents stays home, saving thousands on day care.

--The single parent with children needed $54,019, at $25.97 an hour, in order to pay for full-time licensed day care.

--The single adult needed $24,668 to make ends meet.

And rising home prices also have widened the housing-affordability gap, the report notes.

``The road to hell is paved with good intentions. We can't build enough affordable housing to meet demand because NIMBYs drive up the cost of development,'' said Jack Kyser, chief economist for the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp.

Patton, who lives with his girlfriend and makes ``on the low end'' of a combined $60,000 to $70,000 a year, said that, despite the lack of luxuries, he especially enjoys parenting his 14-year-old son, John Jr., a drummer in the Pasadena High School marching band.

``You never know what it's going to be like in the hair business,'' he said, as customers express shock at the cost of housing. ``I just gotta make more money.

``I (had) planned on being in good shape. I didn't think the cost of living would be so high at this point.''

Dana Bartholomew, (818) 713-3730

dana.bartholomew(at)dailynews.com

CAPTION(S):

photo, 3 charts

Photo:

(color) Barber John Patton, whose clients call him the best, gives J.T. House a cut. Like many hard-working parents who get no government aid, Patton had expected to be further ahead financially at age 50.

Tom Mendoza/Staff Photographer

Chart:

(1 -- 3) BUDGET BASICS

SOURCE: California Budget Project

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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Statistical Data Included
Date:Sep 28, 2005
Words:922
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