Inequity in Silicon Valley persists for people of color
An aerial image of a part of the city of Santa Clara and North San Jose. Photo by The 111th Group.

Life expectancy is shrinking, the poor are getting poorer and Silicon Valley’s wealthiest are flourishing.

The 2022 Silicon Valley Pain Index report highlights how Santa Clara County generated $340 billion in gross domestic product in 2021—an increase of 4.4% since 2020—while nearly half of children in Silicon Valley are living in households who can’t make ends meet with their income. The lifespans of Black and Latino residents also have taken a turn for the worse, while the top 10% of earners in the region control three quarters of the collective wealth, the study shows.

“Last time it was bad to horrific,” San Jose State University sociology professor and lead author Scott Myers-Lipton told San José Spotlight. “We’re still at horrific (levels), and in some cases worsening, like life expectancy and wealth inequality.”

Black and Latino residents experienced a decline in average annual income and life expectancy last year, while their white and Asian counterparts saw increases in average income and a much lower rate of declining life expectancy, according to the report released Monday.

The Silicon Valley Pain Index, which focuses on Santa Clara County and San Jose, is produced by the San Jose State University Human Rights Institute. Some of the data used in the report also includes San Mateo County. The annual study focuses on racial discrimination and income inequality in the region. The report, first published in 2020 in response to the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police, was inspired by an index compiled about New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

The annual report aims to use data and reporting to reveal structured inequalities and urge elected officials to take action. The 2020 report highlights the prevalence of white supremacy and a widening gap of wealth inequality in the South Bay. Last year’s report showed how the disparities have grown worse, with indicators such as hunger, homelessness and income inequality all increasing.

The latest study exposes the lack of progress in addressing widening wealth gaps and racial disparities—especially in the private sector where 73% of tech companies have zero Black people on executive teams. At Apple, there are no executives and senior managers who are African American, Pacific Islander and Indigenous American, according to the report.

“The data speaks for itself, and it says that we have profound disparities that are getting worse, not better,” Russell Hancock, CEO of Joint Venture Silicon Valley and president of the Silicon Valley Institute for Regional Studies, told San José Spotlight. “Silicon Valley, for all of this fabled dynamism, is also a place where the prosperity is not widely shared.”

Black and Latino residents struggle

Roughly 11.7% of Black residents and 11% of Latino residents are living in poverty in Silicon Valley, compared to 5.3% of white residents. Among the Asian population, who saw average annual income jump by $4,933 last year, Vietnamese residents are most likely to live in poverty at 12%. The average annual income for Black residents in the region dropped by $2,593 last year, the report shows. Latino residents also saw a pay cut of $404 on average. White residents had an annual income increase of $3,046 on average, and the population continues to make the most with an average income at $146,690.

Meanwhile, Silicon Valley tech giants were thriving during the pandemic. Companies such as Apple, Google, Facebook and Netflix all saw profits skyrocket by billions since 2020, with Apple hitting $3 trillion in valuation this year.

Walter Wilson, CEO of the Minority Business Consortium and state NAACP executive committee member, said the study is not a surprise for many Black residents in Silicon Valley, who saw their life expectancy drop by 2.6 years—from age 76.4 in 2019 to 73.8 last year. Many experience racism and discrimination in the workplace and their personal lives on the daily basis, Wilson said.

“You would think that in this era after the murder of George Floyd, a lot of American companies are leaning in and trying their best to address racism,” Wilson told San José Spotlight. “We don’t see that happening in high tech in a way that is happening in other industries throughout the country.”

Wilson points to public and private efforts to build an African American Cultural Center in San Jose as a good step in the right direction, but also noted the lack of action and cultural shifts to protect and value Black residents will continue hurting the population.

Trending the wrong way

Latino residents, who saw their life expectancy drop by 3.1 years from age 80.5 in 2019 to 77.4 in 2021, were also more likely to be subject to excessive force by the San Jose Police Department, the study shows. More than 1,520 Latino residents reported injuries caused by local law enforcement between 2017 and 2021, compared to 565 reports from white residents.

“Traditional policing doesn’t work,” Jose Valle, an organizer with Silicon Valley De-Bug, told San José Spotlight. “Why do we have disproportionate numbers of folks who are Mexican Chicanos and Mexican Americans getting injured in this way by law enforcement? That’s what’s striking to me.”

Valle advocates for alternatives to policing, including community-based projects to help reduce violence and property crimes.

The report also highlights the ongoing housing crisis, where residents need to make $54 an hour to afford the average monthly rent for a two-bedroom apartment in San Jose—and the growing homeless crisis, where more than 10,000 people in Santa Clara County are sleeping on the streets.

Last year’s pain index has inspired some action from elected officials, as state Sen. Dave Cortese recently introduced a bill that would guarantee income for homeless high school students.

“It’s significant that we’re seeing this,” Hancock said. “But we’ll have to wait and see where this one takes us.”

Read the full report here.

Contact Tran Nguyen at [email protected] or follow @nguyenntrann on Twitter.

Reporter Lorraine Gabbert contributed to this report.

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