The Economic Gap is Now a Canyon

Findex2015-coverolks in Tallahassee or Saint Paul or Topeka often assume that everyone living in Silicon Valley drives around in a BMW. That’s why, when I’ve traveled, I’ve tried to share the truth…and it’s shocking to many: One in four families in “wealthy” Silicon Valley cannot simultaneously afford food, clothing, shelter and medical care.

But not anymore.

As alarming as this fact sounds, I learned yesterday at the “State of the Valley” Conference that it’s no longer true.

It’s worse.

The number, according to Joint Venture Silicon Valley who compiles the “Silicon Valley Index” every year, is now 30%. That’s how many households don’t meet what they call “minimum self-sufficiency standards”. Working families, typically, whose incomes cannot make ends meet. They rely on Second Harvest Food Bank, or Homefirst or other shelters, or Valley Medical Center for their most basic of needs.

We’re not talking about the Federal Poverty Level here; that number is a joke—and a not-funny one. That’s because it’s not adjusted for region. In the most expensive housing/rental market anywhere, your family of three is considered above the Federal Poverty Rate if you earn $21,000 a year. Try living on twice that in Silicon Valley. Three times that.

Know this about Joint Venture: They’re not some lefty-liberal group; They are an inclusive team of leaders in tech, development, banking, government, academia and more…and what they really do is gather the data, report on it, and then allow you and I to have conversations about what it means.

Sometimes, like in the statistics I just mentioned, they’re shocked by their findings. This year they discovered a frightening gender/wage gap that I think caught a lot of Silicon Valley leaders off-guard…but there it is, staring us in the face.

We have to deal with these issues. Think of it: 30% of families in the richest region of the richest nation on earth struggle to get by every day, every month. And yes, I understand that you don’t have to live in Bangor, Maine to be surprised by this economic chasm…it surprises people who live in San Jose and Sunnyvale too.

It’s also why Valley Medical Center is here, and why I’m proud to serve its Foundation. Not only do we offer this crucial part of the safety net to the 30% who need us, the care is as excellent (or better) than anywhere else.  More and more families with coverage and good incomes are choosing us for that reason. This is a good thing.

But let’s not forget VMC’s mission, which based on Joint Venture’s findings this year, has never been more important for the health of our entire community.

Learn more about the Silicon Valley Index here, and thanks to Russell Hancock, Joint Venture CEO, for asking me to participate as an Index Advisor.