Face to Face with Inequality

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Homeless in Silicon Valley

Moyers & Company aired a segment on homelessness in Silicon Valley this April. Moyer’s observes in the prelude:

California’s Silicon Valley is a microcosm of America’s new extremes of wealth and poverty. Business is better than it’s been in a decade, with companies like Facebook, Google and Apple minting hundreds of new tech millionaires. But not far away, the homeless are building tent cities along a creek in the city of San Jose. Homelessness rose 20 percent in the past two years, food stamp participation is at a 10-year high, and the average income for Hispanics, who make up a quarter of the area’s population, fell to a new low of about $19,000 a year — in a place where the average rent is $2000 a month.

All of the above is true, but it doesn’t capture the full range of economic inequality in Silicon Valley. The phrase “hollowing out the middle” Moyer’s discusses further on is more accurate. That term describes a process which has largely gone unseen and unheard in Silicon Valley, but which affects people across a surprising range of income brackets and occupations. Over the course of the Fair Money project we found people struggling at income levels in the six figures as well as at income levels far below that level. Homelessness is up in Silicon Valley, but homelessness is only the most visible example of a more general process.

Nor does Moyer’s segment do justice to the ingenuity and innovations deployed by those facing harsh economic realities. People do not passively accept their circumstances; they actively transform them. While the phrase “hollowing out the middle” and the signs of homelessness grab headlines, the process of filling in the gaps and getting on with living is a hopeful accompaniment.