Tackling Inequality In The Bay Area


By most any metric the Bay Area’s economy is booming. The region has one of the fastest growing job markets in the country and average wages in the Bay Area are among the highest in the nation. The region is generally perceived to be at the center of the radically innovative and lucrative tech industry.

And yet amidst all this apparent prosperity a recent report published by the Joint Venture Silicon Valley Institute for Regional Studies reveals some sobering realities about the Bay Area economy. The report studied poverty trends in the region, and discovered that despite the economic boom of the last several years a staggering 829,547 residents, or 11.3% of the area’s population, are living at or below the poverty line. Historically, the percentage has been closer to 9%, and the highest the poverty rate has ever been for the Bay Area is 12%, reached during the peak of the economic crisis in 2009.

So to put this together, you have some of the highest average wages and some of the lowest unemployment, and yet a poverty rate that is still well above its historic average. Clearly, the Bay Area has become a textbook model of American inequality.

Why is inequality a problem? You of course have some longtime evangelists on this subject, most notably former secretary of labor Robert Reich. He has written extensively about the dangers of massive wealth disparities, both on the economy and on our politics.

But lest you think that warnings about inequality just come from the-sky-is-falling liberals, consider this: a recent all-day meeting of the business group Leadership San Francisco focused exclusively on the dangers of rising inequality. The Federal Reserve, the International Monetary Fund, and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development – none of which are exactly darlings of the left wing – have all come out saying that inequality is a major obstacle to economic growth.

What, then, can be done to address this growing problem and create a Bay Area economy where a rising tide lifts all boats? Here are some of the proposals commonly made to address inequality, and of course feel free to suggest any ideas of your own at civinomics.com.

Raise the Minimum Wage

Last month, Bay Area labor organizations organized Fight for 15 marches, pushing for widespread adoption of a $15.00 minimum wage. And they appear to be getting their way, as just last week the city of Emeryville approved a plan to raise its minimum wage to $14.44 an hour by this July, and up to $16.00 in 2019. San Francisco is already on track to reach a $15.00 minimum wage by 2018. Berkeley is currently considering its own minimum wage hike.

Should Berkeley raise its minimum wages? Vote and comment here:

Should Berkeley raise its minimum wage to $16 per hour?

The Berkeley city council is considering raising its minimum wage to $16.00 per hour by 2017.


Free Community College 

President Obama recently delivered a commencement address where he stumped his plan to make the first two years of community college free. Expanded education and job training programs are acknowledged to be effective ways to boost job prospects and wages.

Should the U.S. make community college free for the first two years?

Free Community College for Two Years

President Obama put forward a plan to make the first two years of community college free for qualifying students.


Reduced Public Transportation Fares for Low Income Groups

Seattle recently passed new rules that greatly reduced public transportation fares for people whose income is no more than 200% of the federal poverty level. This way, lower income individuals who work but cannot afford to live in the city can afford to stay at their jobs and keep the Seattle economy humming. San Francisco has a similar program called Muni Lifeline, but the program is rarely used.

Do you think there should be reduced public transportation fares for lower income groups in the Bay Area?

Reduced Public Transportation Fares for Lower Income Groups

Seattle recently enacted changes to its public transportation fare structure making it so people with household incomes no more than 200% of the poverty level are able to purchase lower priced tickets.


Universal Preschool

The benefits of preschool have been well documented. In their early years, children experience highly consequential development that affects them throughout the rest of their lives. San Francisco voters recently approved a measure to continue the city’s free pre-school program.

Do you think other Bay Area cities should adopt universal preschool education?

Universal Preschool

Policy makers nation wide are acknowledging the importance of a preschool education and are considering making preschool free for all students.

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