Poverty among plenty -- and it's getting worse


Check out the news this week:

The Associate Press reports that there are increasing numbers of homeless and poor people in Silicon Valley. The piece almost sounds like something I would write:

Simply put, while the ultra-rich are getting even richer, record numbers of Silicon Valley residents are slipping into poverty. "In the midst of a national economic recovery led by Silicon Valley's resurgence, as measured by corporate profits and record stock prices, something strange is going on in the Valley itself. Most people are getting poorer," said Cindy Chavez, executive director of San Jose-based Working Partnerships USA, a nonprofit advocating for affordable housing, higher minimum wages and access to health care.

That will come as no surprise to people who lived through the last tech boom in San Francisco and are struggling to live through this one. Great wealth does not trickle down around here; it sucks up housing, drives up costs, and creates homelessness and poverty for the most vulnerable:

The causes for the growing disparity are complex, but largely come down to one thing: a very high cost of living. The median home price is $550,000, and rents average just under $2,000 a month for a two-bedroom apartment in this region that is home to many of the nation's wealthiest companies including Facebook, Apple Inc., Hewlett-Packard Co. and Google. For a family of four, just covering basic needs like rent, food, childcare and transportation comes to almost $90,000 a year, according to the nonprofit Insight Center for Community Economic Development. "The fact is that we have an economy now that's working well only for those at the very top," said Lawrence Mishel at the Economic Policy Institute in Washington, D.C. "Unless we adopt a new approach to economic policy, we're going to continue going down this path, which means growth that does not really benefit the great majority of people in this country."

Meanwhile, there’s a new study out, using a new approach to economic data, that shows that almost a quarter of all California residents live below the poverty line. The raw data, which is a bit thick, is here. There’s a state Senate report on it here. Sen. Leland Yee (D-SF) held a hearing on the data -- but uncovering the facts, while valuable, isn’t going to get anyone off the streets. And I don't understand why this isn't on the front page of every major newspaper in the state.

Before my trolls tell me that I hate the rich, let me repeat: I don’t hate anybody and I don’t blame rich people for what this country has created. That’s the fault of the policymakers who, since Ronald Reagan too office in 1981, have allowed the United States to embrace increasing social inequality.

Great wealth can make a country, well, wealthy. But if it’s allowed to stick entirely to the top, then if can do more harm than good.

And the reality is that, particularly in the South and the West, tax policy is designed to help the wealthy at the expense of the poor:

The fact is, the more the poor are taxed, the worse off they are, whether they are working or not. We all pay a huge price for this shortsightedness. Medicaid payments, food stamps, disability benefits — all of these federal programs swoop in to try to patch up a frayed safety net.

In other words, it’s not the Invisible Hand of Adam Smith causing the poverty in California. It’s not laziness that causes poor people to live on the streets. And it’s not just happening in San Francisco.

Now, some of the people who like to comment on this blog suggest that poor people just move somewhere else, that it’s too expensive to live in San Francisco and that’s just the way it is.

That's a bit of a harsh approach, and undermines the entire idea of a city as a community, where people of different income levels can live. But it’s also impractical; one of the reasons people come here, besides the weather and the scintillating level of intellectual dialogue (present company excluded) is that there are jobs here. Oh, and most poor people can' t just pack up, hire a moving van, relocate to another city, pay first and last month's rent, and live on savings until they find a new job.

There was a time when the federal government taxed great wealth, and used the money to invest in cities, building (and subsidizing) housing and infrasructure and funding jobs programs. Much of that is now gone; revenue sharing is a ghost of the past, eliminated in the Reagan era.

So now we have almost a parody of American economic news: The New York Times reports that the Dow Jones Industrial Average is setting new records, and on the same page notes that the numbers of homeless people and people living in poverty are also setting records.

This is by far the biggest issue, the most serious crisis, facing the country, and (unlike wealth) it trickles down to every level of government. And it seems as if nobody is paying attention.


unless you live in an SRO. It might just cover your rent, but little else. But let's be creative. I suppose if you don't mind panhandling, you could scrounge up enough to eat every other day. However, if you're middle-class, you're plum out of luck, unless of course you luck into some digs with rent control. Not too many of those left.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 13, 2013 @ 12:01 pm

I have a masters degree, I have worked hard for 30 years in Washington, DC I go to work every day. I am poor. My husband died, and I spend more than 50% of my salary on a mortgage payment. I don't have enough to eat. I go to Aldi and get food ut of the dumpster. I"m not complaining. I 'm just glad I don't have kids to feed. butI do have pets to feed. I travel 3 hours a day to commute to my job. I have to live in a low cost neighborhood where I am surrounded by other poor people who dont' have enough to eat and who go to work every day.

WAKE UP its coming your way too but I dont' think you would have the balls to handle it. You'd just go crying back to mommy or look for a handout from one of your friends.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 12, 2013 @ 6:31 am
Posted by Guest on Sep. 12, 2013 @ 6:42 am

You haven't a clue it not about working smarter or picking the right field it is about the downward spiral of wages and the upward trend of prices. Being an airline pilot use to be a good job now they make so little they qualify for foods assistance. The same with welders engineers a whole host of jobs that use to pay good wages but don't anymore because the laws were stacked against workers.
Go ahead work smarter for a while you might be on of the lucky few but your jobs next or if not next soon.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 19, 2013 @ 9:04 pm

Who do you think is doing the drive-by shootings?

Posted by Guest on Mar. 12, 2013 @ 4:42 pm
Posted by anon on Mar. 12, 2013 @ 4:46 pm

Poor people are

Posted by Guest on Mar. 12, 2013 @ 5:02 pm
Posted by anon on Mar. 12, 2013 @ 5:13 pm

I don't know that it's entirely a choice to be poor, but if the residents of Pacific Heights and the Tenderloin switched places, which would be a nicer place to live?

Posted by Guest on Mar. 12, 2013 @ 6:30 pm

then why would you make any effort to study, work hard or succeed?

Wealth or poverty isn't random - it derives from the decisions that you make about and the priorities that you set for your own life.

Posted by anon on Mar. 13, 2013 @ 5:56 am

That's true even if poverty isn't entirely a choice. Some people have bad luck or such low ability that that hard work isn't enough.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 13, 2013 @ 7:02 am

In America, not so much, as there are many examples of people born dead poor becoming wealthy. It's called the Amercian dream.

Likewise, some people are born into wealth and then go on to fail.

Posted by anon on Mar. 13, 2013 @ 7:28 am

You don't think people differ in innate ability?

Posted by Guest on Mar. 13, 2013 @ 7:55 am

Where's the value in everyone being identical?

Posted by anon on Mar. 13, 2013 @ 8:21 am

If people differ in innate ability, some poor people become wealthy does not prove that any poor person can become wealthy.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 13, 2013 @ 8:35 am

"wealthy" is a relative term. You'd probably be deemed "wealthy" in Bangladesh and maybe even Alabama, but not here.

The fact remains that some achieve success and others do not, and while there are many factors that combine to make that happen, it is clearly the case that being born poor is not an impediment to those who are determiend enough to succeed.

Posted by anon on Mar. 13, 2013 @ 8:59 am

Even a good education is no guarantee of success. As a NY Times piece about four college strivers illustrates, "their story seems less like a tribute to upward mobility than a study of obstacles in an age of soaring economic inequality. Not one of them has a four-year degree. Only one is still studying full time, and two have crushing debts." And there are tens of thousands of struggling college kids in the same predicament, including those from the (formerly) middle class.


Posted by Guest on Mar. 13, 2013 @ 2:29 pm

Myth: All U.S. children have equal opportunities to succeed in school.

The Reality:
•Children born poor, at low birth weight, without health coverage, and who start school not ready to learn often fall behind and drop out.
•Teachers in high poverty schools are more likely to have less experience, less training, and fewer advanced degrees than teachers in low poverty schools.
•22 percent of children who have lived in poverty do not graduate from high school, compared with six percent of those who have never been poor.
• 32 percent of students who spent more than half of their childhoods in poverty do not graduate.

(Children's Defense Fund, 2010; Annie E. Casey Foundation, 2012)


Myth: People who are poor are lazy.

Fact: More than 10.5 million people in poverty formed the “working poor” in the U.S. in 2010, meaning they were in the labor force for at least 27 weeks. (U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2012)

Myth: Even if you're poor in the U.S. you're doing pretty well.

The Reality: The U.S. ranks near the bottom of the world's wealthiest countries in how well it cares for its children in poverty. Out of 24 nations, the U.S. ranked between 19th and 23rd in critical areas of health, education, and material well-being. (UNICEF, 2010)


Myth: No one goes hungry in America.

The Reality: One in six Americans lives in a household that is "food insecure," meaning that in any given month, they will be out of money, out of food, and forced to miss meals or seek assistance to feed themselves. Nationally, more than 50 million Americans were food insecure in 2011—a 39 percent increase from 2007. Among the hungry are nearly 17 million children. (U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, 2012)


Posted by Ana on Mar. 13, 2013 @ 2:35 pm

I very much appreciate your post as it represents additional back-up for putting the lie to Big Troll Lie #12 (Poor people here in the U.S. are actually quite well-off.) *and* you also have pointed out a new addition for the list:

21 Poor people are lazy

Once again, thanks. I'll try to credit you sporadically:


Posted by lillipublicans on Mar. 13, 2013 @ 10:33 pm

This is ridiculous. The rich are getting richer because the tax codes favor the rich today. More and more wealth into fewer and fewer hands. Why not just enslave people who make poor choices in life so you can have slaves work for you on your plantation.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 13, 2013 @ 6:56 pm

For the unfortunate souls who have to work for a living, many work two days a week (or more) just to pay taxes. They work another two days a week (or more) just to pay housing costs and utilities. After transportation, medical, food, and other vital necessities, they're lucky to have a couple of hours work money left over at the end of the week.

At least a slaveowner had to pay for food, housing, and medical care. In the current US system, after workers pay for taxes and housing, they're not much better off than the slaves of yore.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 13, 2013 @ 11:23 pm

Tax codes benefit the rich, but not at the expense of the poor. While Mitt Romney qualified to pay 9% in income taxes (he actually paid more, to help his presidential bid), it isn't at the expense of the poor. I is true that 47% of Americans don't pay any taxes. No, it comes at the expense of the middle class, like me, who pay double the taxes that Mitt pays. But I believe we have a serious problem with people earning money and not reporting it - thus "qualifying" as poor. There is rampant fraud in the US - much of it done by the "poor". Like the family at Safeway last week that bought two carts of groceries - one for their restaurant, which they paid for in cash, and one cart for their home - paid with food stamps. They loaded all of it into their BMW 750.

Posted by Richmondman on Mar. 14, 2013 @ 1:08 pm

Sounds more like the antics that the rich get away with every day. By the way, stop quoting Romney. It's a lie that 47% of Americans don't pay any taxes. They may not pay income tax (only about 1/2 of the federal tax burden) but they still pay FICA and Medicare taxes, the unemployment insurance tax and sales taxes. In fact, the poor carry the heavier burden when it comes to taxes because they are less able to shoulder it.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 14, 2013 @ 1:31 pm

Are they going to kill the poor people in the U.S.A

Posted by sydney on Jul. 19, 2013 @ 8:43 pm

Its not fair to the poor. They cant afford things the rich can its not fair. We get to suffer hoping that someday they don't kill the poor. Because we cant afford things. Its sad. The things we have to do to live. Its hard. The people that is sad, scared, poor, mad, hopeless, and trying to survive I now what its like coming from a 11 year old. Its vary scary having to hope and pray all night what am I going to do tomorrow I have to help my mom a single mom with 6 kids we have to eat get money to survive the 3 oldest making planes saying. Tomorrow we are busting our asses. Saying we are going to ask people across town and back. What can I do to get just 15 bucks?To help my family my life the poor the fear its hard with all of it on you'r mind. All the time. What am I going to do tomorrow? What is going to happen? I hope there was just one easy way to fix it even fix things. I am scared! The poor and the world is scared. Just what can I do what can you do to help? Being poor and helpless is hard!.!

Posted by sydney on Jul. 19, 2013 @ 9:04 pm

I sincerly hope that you are soon forced to move to Oakland in 7 years when the truth you deny is finally realized.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 16, 2013 @ 8:53 pm

Not everyone can afford to live in the world's favorite city.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 16, 2013 @ 9:13 pm

"and creates homelessness and poverty for the most vulnerable" Can't you all knock off with this trite cliche that is as meaningless as "vibrant?"

It is not just "the most vulnerable" but anyone who's not plugged into the high value added economy who is at risk.

Most who are at risk do not self identify as "the most vulnerable," just as most of "the most vulnerable" as described by "the left" don't self identify as "the most vulnerable"

That language is patronizing, has lost its meaning by becoming cliche, and needs to be put to bed in favor of more precise language that appeals to the people you're writing about.

Posted by marcos on Mar. 12, 2013 @ 10:49 am

"...appeals to the people you're writing about"

Who the hell would that be? A pampered, whiny, middle-class white dude who could care leass about people of color, poor folks, women or the elderly (yes, the most vulnerable). Someone who hates nonprofits because they provide valuable services to vulnerable people instead of leaving them to fend for themselves? You've never been very progressive, Marc, since you only care about yourself. Admit it.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 12, 2013 @ 1:06 pm

Any pretence that he cared about those less fortunate and privileged than himself eroded on that day - the day he sold out to the man he claims to hate.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 12, 2013 @ 1:21 pm

I suppose that depends on what you mean by "at the top". It's certainly not the "one percent", to use that overworked cliche, as there quite simply are not nearly enough of them in Silicon Valley to absorb all the housing there.

Home prices and rents there are expensive not because of a few billionaires, who only affect the value of a few superhomes in Los Altos etc. No, they are expensive because there are so many people in that area who can afford those homes that there are virtually no vanacies.

So the idea that a relatively small number of super-rich people drive the entire housing market up is untenable. What in fact you have is a broad range of people making 150K and up, sufficient to afford all those homes. And the tech business is very good at spreading the wealth around between all it's staff, thru bonuses and stock options. There are tens of thousands of millionaires in the Bay Area, and people making 150K pa or more.

That does leave many who still cannot afford housing in the best parts, of course. But that is inevitable in an area that is booming. You can't pin everything on the "wealthy". It's much more complicated than that.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 12, 2013 @ 10:56 am

You're correct that many high-paying industries are booming in the Bay Area. By having many of the world's scientific Nobel Laureates conducting research and teaching at two local universities, and the headquarters of world-class financial, law, biotech, and software/hardware technology companies located within a 50 mile radius, the Bay Area has hundreds of thousands of jobs that pay very well.

The 1% meme is useful to galvanize the public's attention to the glaring discrepancy in wealth of the relative few versus the poverty and marginal economic existence of the many, including relatively affluent households. But as a way of understanding the more complex economic relationships that are affecting the Bay Area, US, and world economy, the 1% soundbite isn't all that helpful. At least the top 20-25% of the country's economic elites have a very strong motivation to keep the status quo. It's in these upper income ranges - but far below the "1%ers" - where most business executives, politicians, landlords, professionals, and successful small business owners have high levels of income far greater than the incomes of the lower 2/3 of society.

The article wisely separates those economic players "at the top" verses the rest of us. When the Chronicle is running thoughtful stories about the very uneven income and wealth distribution created by Silicon Valley and its symbiotic financial and legal professional prostitutes, we can surmise that even the high-level Chronicle management could no longer ignore this long simmering issue.

The SFBG has been at the forefront keeping the Bay Area public informed about the deep chasms in the economic realities of the area's residents. But until the politicians start dragging the CEO's, university presidents, large landlords, federal politicians, and other economic players responsible for the deep economic and polarized society into public hearings to ask why they continue to create a sharply divided economic society and how it can be changed to benefit the entire society, we can expect the status quo to remain. Indeed, we can expect the situation to get far worse as technology further reduces the need for local labor, and the landlords, banks, and speculators continue to profit from scarce housing.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 12, 2013 @ 12:36 pm

convincing about why that matters. SFBG takes it as a given that inequality is wrong, but why? If America ever gets it's first "trillionaire" then that will increase inequality but does it really and materially affect anyone else? Most likely, no. If anything that trillionaire will spend and invest, thereby creating jobs and prosperity for everyone.

Indeed, part of why even the poor in the US are quite well off by global standards is the much maligned "trickle down effect". Inequality, per se, does not make anyone poor, because it derives from creating wealth, not stealing it. Gates, Jobs and Buffett didn't steal from anyone.

Progressives love to cultivate envy but that is a poor substitute for enlightened policy making. It doesn't matter that Buffett is worth 40 billion. It really doesn't.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 12, 2013 @ 12:56 pm

The point of this article and the link to the AP story is that economic conditions have gotten far worse for a growing number of residents. This issue isn't about a few zillionaires who became rich with no harm to the rest of us, it's about an economic system that is funnelling most of the wealth and income to a fairly small percent of the population while the majority of the population copes with declining incomes, high housing costs, and high regressive taxes.

As with the majority of other commenters who post here, there's no reason to let the facts get in the way of your foregone opinions. If you had read the links you would have discovered some informative and well-written articles including this one.


Posted by Guest on Mar. 12, 2013 @ 1:17 pm

Imagine a society where everyone makes 45K pa, which happens to be the average for the US.

Now imagine that one of those people suddenly becomes a multi-billionaire.

Is anyone less well off as a result? Why would that even matter?

Posted by anon on Mar. 12, 2013 @ 1:38 pm

I sympathize with dense people who can't understand what is being said so they make up a story to fit their simple view of the world. But no one talked about everyone making the same income except you.

You sound like a law school flunk-out who only learned to change the subject to fit their agenda and never could fathom that other reasonable people could have different points of view. People who vehemently state an opinion as being fact are often diagnosed with ADHD among other mental disorders. You may want to get those checked out by more competent physicians than you're currently seeing.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 12, 2013 @ 1:55 pm

envy of the odd wealthy person is in any way a relevant factor.

Posted by anon on Mar. 12, 2013 @ 3:02 pm

It does so much to bolster your argument. No proof required.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 12, 2013 @ 3:16 pm

anyone to have more money than you is doomed.

Posted by anon on Mar. 12, 2013 @ 3:41 pm

and whether you pay your fair share of taxes.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 13, 2013 @ 3:06 pm

Did you even bother to read Tim's piece before commenting? Perhaps you missed the part where Tim said that "almost 1/4 of all California residents live below poverty line."

In this day and age, the rich do not get rich by 'creating wealth' (hint: they produce nothing!). These days, they get rich by cheating and speculating with money that doesn't belong to them. The government (that's our money) subsidizes the corporations and bails them out as a matter of course. Then they rig the system so they pay far less in taxes than they owe. In fact, 2/3 of US corporations pay no income tax at all! To add insult to injury, they cheat through insider trading and other schemes to reap maximum profits at the expense of the rest of us. And if you think that money is trickling down, you haven't been paying attention.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 12, 2013 @ 1:32 pm

far harder than you are, are smarter, better educated and achieve far more productivity than you.

They don't get rich by accident, by rather by understanding what others are willing to pay for and then doing a great job of giving them what theyw ant and need.

This whole meme about the rich stealing from the poor is a myth. Robin Hood, it ain't. The simple fact is that, even if you are poor, you'd be even poorer but for the rich and the wealth they create and which you share.

Posted by anon on Mar. 12, 2013 @ 1:44 pm

If your friends are among the financial elites, I'm sure they can relate to this once respected CEO and the lifestyle where inside tips are described as "a way of life". And no, it's not Robin Hood, more like Robin Hood in reverse. Read on:

"Rajat Gupta's four-decade journey from India to the upper echelons of American business and a board seat at Goldman Sachs Group Inc. ended after less than 10 hours of deliberation by a federal jury, which convicted him of insider trading.

"The verdict caps the fall of the most prominent figure caught in the government's drive to stop the leaking of corporate secrets to Wall Street. The U.S. said Mr. Gupta, 63 years old, once one of America's most-respected corporate directors, was motivated not by quick profits but rather a lifestyle where inside tips are the currency of friendships and elite business relationships."


Posted by Guest on Mar. 12, 2013 @ 2:24 pm

per year and has a couple thousand options worth $500,000?

Posted by Lucretia Snapples on Mar. 12, 2013 @ 2:42 pm

the wealthy getting that way by creating prosperity and actually helping the poor by creating jobs.

Posted by anon on Mar. 12, 2013 @ 3:09 pm

what the case reveals is that this is a way of life for CEOs working in the financial sector.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 12, 2013 @ 3:49 pm

Your premise is that rich people are criminal or evil. That is not the reality, and in fact most crimes are perpetrated by poor people.

Posted by anon on Mar. 12, 2013 @ 4:25 pm

straight-facedly put trollery.

The premise stated by the previous commenter was not that "rich people are criminal or evil" but that rich people often have gotten rich through other means than hard work, productive work, or "creating jobs."

The claim that "most crimes are perpetrated by poor people" has no basis in fact, and is most especially false when the total dollar cost of the crimes are considered.

The housing bubble related white-collar crime which still has gone un-punished by the Obama-Bush administrations cost Americans *trillions* of dollars.


Posted by lillipublicans on Mar. 13, 2013 @ 6:52 am

and in fact is foten used to discount the notion that blacks are more likely to commit crimes by claiming that it is really poverty, not race.

Activities like finance and real estate create wealth just like any other successful vocation.

Posted by anon on Mar. 13, 2013 @ 7:27 am

"Say the word "criminal," and the image that comes to the mind of most people is a street criminal… usually poor, usually black, usually armed with a gun.

"In terms of sheer damage, however, the crimes of the poor do not even begin to compare with the rich. In 1993, the property loss to theft and robbery amounted to $15.3 billion. (1) But white-collar embezzlement costs about $200 billion a year! (2) So conditioned are we to ignore the crimes of the middle and upper classes that the FBI does not even list this statistic in its authoritative annual report, Crime in the United States. The very way we think of crime is racist and classist to its core.

"The same is true of murder. Officially, the FBI counted 23,271 murders in 1993. (3) But a truer figure would run at least 318,368, even by the incomplete and conservative count listed below. Society has simply conditioned us not to think of the deaths caused by corporations as murder."


Posted by Guest on Mar. 13, 2013 @ 2:42 pm