For three years now, San Jose State Professor Scott Myers-Lipton has held a mirror of Silicon Valley’s staggering wealth gap and reflects racial differences: more than 45% of the Valley’s children live in families that cannot meet basic needs.
According to the third annual Silicon Valley Pain Index released Wednesday, the wealth gap between white households and black and Hispanic communities is widening at an unprecedented rate, with trends showing no signs of slowing down anytime soon.
Income inequality is an integral part of what Myers-Lipton considers an environment of “destructive inequality” along racial lines.
“Here in Silicon Valley, this is one of the ways our racism manifests itself,” Myers-Lipton said. “Clearly, African Americans and Hispanics are not participating in the astronomical amount of wealth being created here.”
While the tech giants of Silicon Valley are reporting record earnings last year and incomes of white workers continue to rise, the median family income of blacks and Hispanics in Silicon Valley is falling, leading to a homelessness rate of over 11% in their respective communities. .
Myers-Lipton, a professor of sociology at San Jose State University and an advisory board member for the University Institute for Human Rights, released the 2020 annual report after the killing of George Floyd drew attention to widespread racial inequality across the country. Goal: To make the economic division so clear-cut that politicians and government officials have no choice but to act.
This tactic is slowly paying off – inspired by the 2021 report, California State Senator Dave Cortese is leading legislation that will provide guaranteed income of $1,000 a month for five months to high school graduates experiencing housing shortages. But while the initiative is a step in the right direction, Myers-Lipton says the bill alone is not enough.
“We are calling for real action from Silicon Valley’s technology leaders and our elected officials, those in power, to bring about change,” Myers-Lipton said.
This year’s report focuses on 89 statistics that cover a wide range of issues, from food insecurity in Santa Clara County to housing inequality and the total lack of representation of blacks and Hispanics in the leadership of the Valley’s biggest tech companies. At Apple, according to the Pain Index, none of the 126 executives and senior managers is Black, Pacific Islander/Hawaiian, or American Indian/Alaska Native.
Now the marginalized communities of Silicon Valley are feeling the effects of this upper-level inequality downstream. Corina Herrera-Loera, who works as a trustee for the Rock Union Alum Elementary School District, said her public schools began providing free meals to anyone under 18 who needed it after seeing the growing food insecurity children in the area are facing.
“We shouldn’t be doing this,” Herrera-Loera said. “We are happy to do this and make sure we cover this need, but our children should not go to bed hungry and wait until they can get breakfast from our school… Enough.”
Cynthia Wanji, an engineer and comedian of the Black Leadership Kitchen Cabinet, a coalition of community groups working to support the African-American community in Santa Clara County, is finding it increasingly difficult to recognize the city she grew up in. Two years later, Ouanji said, many of her colleagues and neighbors had to move out of San Jose in hopes of finding more affordable options in the Bay Area.
“San Jose is my home,” Ouanji said. “However, every year San Jose becomes less and less a place for the working class, for BIPOC people,” she said, referring to blacks, indigenous people and people of color, “for artists and even engineers like me.”
Ultimately, according to Myers-Lipton, the problem starts with housing. As median rents rise nationwide, the Bay Area is leading the way — today, the San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara region is one of the most expensive urban areas to rent in the United States, according to the report. The black and Hispanic communities of Silicon Valley have felt the effects of the housing crisis as a lack of affordable options has led to population displacement, increased poverty and homelessness, and educational disparities between lower and higher income school districts.
Along with rising poverty and displaced persons, the death rate is rising. In 2021, 250 homeless people died on the streets of Santa Clara County, a 55% increase from before the pandemic.
As the housing situation deteriorates, politicians continue to play for time, despite achieving lofty goals, Myers-Lipton said. In 2017, San Jose Mayor Sam Licciardo laid out a housing plan with a goal of building 10,000 affordable housing units by 2022.
Five years later, the pain index shows the city is short of 8,372 housing units after only 204 affordable housing units were built since July 2021, down 417 units from the previous year. Making real progress will require group commitment from both policymakers and technology industry leaders, Myers-Lipton said.
“We don’t want to be here in 10 years and discuss this enduring racial and social inequality that exists in Silicon Valley,” Myers-Lipton said. “We hope that in 10 years we will be reporting on the many solutions that have been proposed to end this racial disparity and how we have moved towards greater equality.”