In most places in these United States, a salary of $ 23.00 per hour would be considered a livable wage, but not from San Jose, California to almost San Francisco, California.  For this is the area known as Silicon Valley.  For tens of thousands of low level maintenance workers who help support the Silicon Valley’s tech boom can’t even make ends meet anymore.  Many live more than an hour away and are forced to supplement their income by eating at food pantries.

Silicon Valley is entering its fifth year of uncontrolled growth.  The median household income is $90,000, according to the Census Bureau.  The average single-family home sells for about $1 million.  But the river of money flowing through this 1,800-square-mile peninsula, stretching from south of San Francisco to San Jose, has also driven housing costs to double in the past five years while wages for low- and middle-skilled workers are stagnant.  Nurses, preschool teachers, security guards and landscapers commute for hours from less-expensive inland suburbs.

Now the widening income gap between the wealthy and those left behind is sparking debate, anger and sporadic protests.

From the White House to the Vatican to the world’s business elite, the growing gap between the very wealthy and everyone else is seizing agendas.  Three decades ago, Americans’ income tended to grow at roughly similar rates, no matter how much they made.  But since about 1980, income has grown most for the top earners.  For the poorest 20 percent of families, it’s dropped.

A study last month by the Brookings Institution found that among the nation’s 50 largest cities, San Francisco experienced the largest increase in income inequality between 2007 and 2012.  The richest 5 percent of households earned $28,000 more, while the poorest 20 percent of households saw income drop $4,000. To the south, Silicon Valley’s success has made it a less hospitable place for many.

Once a peaceful paradise of apricot, peach and prune orchards, the region is among the most expensive places to live in the U.S.  Those earning $50,000 a year in Dallas would need to make $77,000 a year in the Silicon Valley to maintain the same quality of life, according to the Council for Community and Economic Research; $63,000 if they moved from Chicago or Seattle.

Housing costs are largely to blame.  The same $800-a-month, two-bedroom apartment near Dallas would cost about $1,700 in Mountain View, California.  Dental visits, hamburgers, washing machine repairs, movie tickets — all are above national averages.

Five years ago Sacred Heart was providing food and clothing for about 35,000 individuals a year.  This year it expects to serve more than twice that.  On one brisk morning recently, families, working couples, disabled people and elderly lined up out the door for free bags of food, just miles from the bustling tech campuses.

Those firms, meantime, are increasingly opting to build their own infrastructure rather than depend on public systems and have become social bubbles, with their own child-care centers, cafes, dry cleaning services, gyms, onsite health providers and hair salons. eBay changes its employees’ oil; Facebook repairs their bikes.  Some of those workers are in-house, with good salaries and benefits.  Others are contracted out.

While some are struggling to survive, others are fighting back. Twice in December and again in January, activists in San Francisco, where recent tax incentives have lured many techno firms who use privately run shuttle buses to ferry workers from the city to work, came under attack. Tires were slashed, rocks hurled.  Signs taped to the buses read: “Gentrification & Eviction Technologies: Integrated Displacement and Cultural Erasure” and “F— Off Google.”

It’s an indicator that the top are getting richer, but the folks at the bottom are stuck, with stagnant wages and not enough housing, not enough transportation, not enough infrastructures.  Solutions abound: Build more affordable housing, raise the minimum wage, train locals for high-tech jobs, but that all costs money that these companies are unwilling to help pay for.

There is this sense of disconnection.  The techies may live and work in the same city, but their kids are not going to the same schools.  They don’t live in the same neighborhoods.  There simply isn’t much engagement across the divide.

One prominent figure in the tech elite have fanned flames on the issue of income disparity, when he questioned why the heart of our city has to be overrun by crazy, homeless, drug dealers, dropouts, and trash.

The war on the one percent, namely the rich, will continue as long as they live in a world that most of us could only dream about.

 

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