San Jose national quality of life ranking gives critics pause
The city of San Jose is pictured in this aerial file photo.

This week, San Jose moved up the ranks to become one of the Bay Area’s two best places to live in the United States. But for researchers crunching similar statistics, vaulting onto the top 10 list is a bona fide head scratcher.

According to the U.S. News and World Report’s Best Places to Live in the U.S. list of the country’s 150 most populous metro areas for 2022-2023, San Jose ranked No. 5 based on factors like affordability, desirability, quality of life and job market. San Jose received a score of 6.7 out of 10. The other Bay Area city on the list was San Francisco at No. 10.

“Year after year, San Jose is at or near the top of the lists of ‘best cities in the U.S.’ for living, working and growing a business,” Nanci Klein, San Jose’s economic development director, told San José Spotlight. “Not only is San Jose the continuing global hub of innovation, but our spirit of curiosity and inclusivity drives the exciting culture, cuisine and arts scenes associated with our diversity and history.”

Russell Hancock, CEO and president of Joint Venture Silicon Valley, said he thinks San Jose would rank high on most metrics, with the exception of housing—which he referred to as the city’s “Achilles heel.”

“It’s a booming downtown with more to come and then some, with fabulous neighborhoods with charm and character,” he told San José Spotlight. “These (reports) tend to be beauty contests, and they’re constantly shifting. But when you stack up the Bay Area, it’s no surprise. There aren’t many places that have such an amazing list (of features).”

But not everyone agrees, as the city has seen a decline in affordability. San Jose has been ranked as one of the top five most expensive cities to rent in the nation, per the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Developers during the first quarter of 2022. Families continue to leave the area due to a lack of affordable housing, which has translated into a significant decline in school enrollment. Recent studies show residents are not satisfied with what the city offers.

Sandy Perry, president of the Affordable Housing Network of Santa Clara County, said the News & World Report score does not make any sense to him.

“If it’s so desirable, why are people moving out of the city?” he said. “It doesn’t reflect reality.”

Perry pointed to the last census data which found that San Jose’s population dropped below one million residents.

“It may be desirable, but it’s not affordable,” he said.

A 2019 National Community Survey found 42% of those surveyed would recommend San Jose as a place to live. But last June, the 2021 Silicon Valley Pain Index, which studies racial discrimination and income inequality in the region, reported the pandemic increased severe local racial and economic inequities.

The index, conducted by the San Jose State University Human Rights Institute, found the Black population experienced more than double the overall poverty rate and saw their average per capita income decline 1% per year. People of color with some college education reportedly earned about $11 less per hour than white residents with similar credentials.

This February, a Joint Venture Silicon Valley report found “shocking wealth disparity” with the top quarter of Silicon Valley earners holding 92% of the region’s wealth and the top 10% of earners holding 75%. Last year, while the average annual income was $170,000 and the median income was $138,000, service workers’ average income was $31,000.

Scott Myers-Lipton, a San Jose State University professor who helps prepare the pain index, said this year’s index will be released in June and refutes the News & World Report score.

“Maybe if you’re in the top 30%, that could be true—but not for the bottom 50%, that’s for sure,” Myers-Lipton said. “Almost half of our kids in Silicon Valley, their parents don’t make enough money for them to have self-sufficiency. That means they can’t afford rent, food, clothing, the basics, without government or nonprofit support. That doesn’t seem like it’s very conducive to quality of life.”

Myers-Lipton pointed to the countywide increase in homelessness, recently reported in a survey conducted this spring.

“About 11% of our college students experience homelessness through the year,” he said. “How can we say it’s going great? I would like to know what metrics they’re looking at—they’re not the metrics we’re looking at.”

Contact Natalie Hanson at [email protected] or @nhanson_reports on Twitter.

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