SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — For 40 hours each week, Destiny Couch works behind the counter at The French Gourmet in Pacific Beach.
A new mom, she's about to add a second job.
"The cost of living just keeps going up, so it's just a never-ending cycle," Couch said Friday.
Luckily for her, a shortage of workers amid 3 percent unemployment means service sector hourly rates are growing.
Michel Malecot, who owns The French Gourmet, said his wages are 25 percent higher since the pandemic started. Then again, costs are up too.
"We are paying much more than we used to, Covid has brought that, and that's a good side product for Covid," he said. "But the customer has to pay more now."
Even as restaurants, hotels and other service-sector businesses raise pay, inflation remains around 8 percent, a level not seen in 40 years. In other words, higher costs are taking a bigger bite out of those higher paychecks. For instance, at the Arco station across the street from The French Gourmet, regular gas is only below $6 per gallon for cash-paying customers.
"I have to really think about where I'm going while driving," said Couch, who recently bought a hybrid car. "I'll do trips all in one day and I just have to ask for gas money if anyone wants a ride."
Couch said before she became a mom she worked three jobs, and even that year doesn't think she earned more than $40,000.
To put that into perspective, MIT says even a single person with no kids needs $47,300 a year to live in San Diego.
Breaking that down monthly means a person would earn $3,941 in wages. Subtract $786 in taxes off the top and $1,600 dollars for rent, which is not necessarily enough to rent a full apartment. Take off an additional $411 for transportation, $333 for food, $215 for entertainment, pets and/or education, $190 in medical expenses, and $400 for other necessities.
At those costs, a worker pretty much break even.
"I've been saving money to move out on my own," said Couch, who is living with her family and splitting the rent.
Even if she can move out, she has no illusions about being able to afford her own place.