For Bay Area non-rich, high tech raises home costs, lowers wages

This week, USA Today told the story of people who live in the shadows of today’s high-tech San Francisco. According to the daily, “Tech jobs have skyrocketed 56% in the past five years – more than any other large city in the nation – and the unemployment rate is down to 4.4%. But housing prices are rising at a 20% rate and the average rent in 2013 was $3,396 per month, the highest of any city in the country, according to a study by the Boston Consulting Group.”

In late October, Newsweek told the story of people like Diego Deleo, an 80 year old native San Franciscan who’s been evicted after 30 years in a rent-controlled apartment. The owner wants to sell it to one of the cash-rich tech workers and entrepreneurs who have descended on the fabled city.

It’s almost the rule. According to Newsweek, “At just 49 square miles and surrounded by water on three sides, in the ‘City By The Bay,’ evictions like Deleo’s are becoming an unfortunate reality for a growing handful of residents who are falling victim to the booming Northern California economy.”

But it’s not just San Francisco; it’s all the low-income communities down the Peninsula, which coexist with impossibly wealthy companies and stratospherically priced housing. The residents of the two worlds – rich and poor – rarely interact, although some of the poor get minimum-wage jobs, cleaning up and landscaping companies like Google, Apple and HP. The result, though, is a simmering inequity.

Congresswoman Jackie Speier (D-CA), whose congressional district includes East Palo Alto, San Mateo and Redwood City, told USA Today, “The biggest problem in this country isn't Ebola or ISIS — it's income inequality. It affects everything.”

The article tells of projects and philanthropic donations that help ease – but do not lessen – the problems of extreme poverty.

Unfortunately, one time-honored solution is ignored: unionization of the legions of low-wage workers who struggle in East Palo Alto and the rapidly gentrifying sections of places like San Francisco and Palo Alto. Higher wages would mean that income divide would become less dangerous, and that would be a benefit to people on both sides.

Struggling in the shadow of Silicon Valley wealth (USA Today, Nov. 5, 2014)

Photos: Priced-Out in San Francisco
(Newsweek, Oct. 29, 2014)