Poverty in The Bay Area

A significant portion of the Bay Area’s economy is driven by technology companies in what is known as Silicon Valley. For context, The Bay Area Census considers the following as falling within the Bay Area (aka San Francisco Bay Area).


Silicon Valley is geographically considered to be the southern portion of this county map, spanning San Mateo and Santa Clara counties, but it serves more as a metonym for the ever-growing tech sector of business that spans a large portion of Northern California. From David Rumsey’s map collection, this is Silicon Valley.

According to CalMatters, 

“Wealth inequality in Silicon Valley is more pronounced than in the U.S. overall, or globally, with the top 1% of households holding 48 times more of the total wealth than the bottom 50%... That compares to 23 times nationally and globally.”

“About 23% of Silicon Valley residents lived below the poverty threshold in 2021, a 3 percentage point increase from 2019. Two percent of Silicon Valley households, or about 22,000 households, did not hold bank accounts.”

“...while income inequality was lessening statewide, down 1%, as well as nationally, down 3%, income inequality rose in Silicon Valley by 5% in 2021. Generally, the pace of income inequality growth since the 2009 recession has been twice that of the nation…”

Vital Signs notes that in 2021, 18% of Bay Area residents lived 200% below the poverty line. That’s 1.4 million people. 31 cities throughout all of the Bay Area counties experienced higher poverty rates than the regional poverty rate (regionally, nearly 19% of residents were 200% below the federal poverty threshold).

Digging deeper into how these breakouts translate into the Bay Area community of people, we find that over a quarter of Santa Clara County residents struggle to afford their most basic needs. For over 20 years, we have seen a surge in childhood poverty with the highest groups impacted being among those under 18 in the LGTBQIA+ community and communities of color. Within the past few years, there’s been a large spike among those living in poverty due to the aftermath of the pandemic and the ending of safety net assistance programs such as the child tax credit expansion, emergency rental assistance, and food assistance programs. As Bay Area Equity Atlas states, “Expanded safety nets were a lifeline for many low-income households during the peak of the pandemic, yet many of those resources are no longer available as the region has continued to return to pre-pandemic activities. In turn, the financial hole that many households are experiencing because of the pandemic has deepened.”

Among those who are challenged with Bay Area affordability are also our ever-growing population of those aged 65+. Here’s an excerpt from a localnewsmatters.com writeup that provides good insight into the current state of the Bay Area 65+ residents:

“According to the state’s Master Plan for Aging, “California has the second-highest rate of poverty among older adults in the country, leading to high levels of hunger and increasing homelessness,”

Even for those who do not technically fall below a poverty line established by the U.S. Government, affording life in the Bay Area can be a major challenge. And with the rising cost of housing, health and personal care,  as well as additional challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, even seniors with relatively high income compared to national metrics may struggle to get by.

Households in the Bay Area spent an average of $91,728 annually in 2019-2020, according to the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics. And fewer than a third of Californians age 65+ make that much, reports the Census Bureau’s 2019 American Community Survey.”

This is the last week of National Poverty in America Awareness Month but that doesn’t mean the learnings and conversations end here. We should continually strive for awareness of how our neighbors manage (or aren’t able to manage) through the constant state of economic change and beyond to determine how we can best support them. We live in a thriving, innovative, and resilient community that has the potential to do so much good, so let’s stay on top of figuring out how we can best foster that through continuous education and thoughtful action.