Californians no longer earn enough to cover their expenses

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Sarah Rivas barely earned enough for her rent since moving to the city of Sunnyvale, in Silicon Valley, California. When, three months after the pandemic, she woke up to an email from her school announcing a nearly 7% cut in teacher salaries, a fight she gave up after three years.

“I moved into my parents’ house,” said Rivas, who has been teaching 12th grade at a Sacramento school, three hours from her now home. “It’s not what all 26-year-olds want to do, but I have no choice.”

Rivas earns above the median household income in the United States. And you haven’t lost your job due to the closing of a pandemic; However, the complexity of surviving economically is the manifestation of a fundamental economic divide between the haves and the have-nots [money] in California. For many middle-income workers, the pandemic marked the end of “barely surviving”

Sarah Rivas lives with her parents. (Anne Wernikoff-CalMatters)

Home to 166 billionaires who have made more than $ 235 billion since the start of the pandemic, the Dorado state also has the highest poverty rate – 17.2% when adjusted for cost of living, according to a recent Census Bureau analysis. .

Even with a salary of $ 66,129 a year, Rivas couldn’t afford her rent of more than $ 2,000 in the tech valley. According to data from 2017, the median household income in Sunnyvale is $ 134,234 and the median rent is $ 2,390.

“How can you be a normal one when that is what you need?” Said the teacher. If Summit Denali Charter School reopens this year, Rivas will have to face a tough decision: quit her job or find a new place to live in Silicon Valley.

“I will never be able to buy a house, I will never be able to comfortably raise a family in that area,” he said.

She’s not the only one struggling to survive: A Mill Valley high school teacher, who asked not to be identified, described that she contemplated sex work to fill in the gaps left by her roughly $ 65,000 salary. Others switched to part-time or lower-paying jobs.

Experts worry that in addition to the growing distress of poor people, the state’s already shrinking middle class is also taking a hard hit.

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“We already had a vacuum in the middle class, and this situation is not going to help,” said Dr. Sylvia Allegretto, a labor economist and co-chair of the Center for Wage and Employment Dynamics at the University of California, Berkeley. “This is going to be harmful for families, we will see more food insecurity and then evictions will come.”

In the Bay Area, what used to be the crowded parking lot of the San Francisco Giants is now a makeshift food pantry. Collective food coolers appeared in front of Oakland homes so that people who couldn’t afford food could eat.

One in four Californians has filed for unemployment since March, and the state’s unemployment rate in August was still three points higher than the rest of the country, at 11.4%, according to the state’s Employment Development Department.

Some found a new job, but job growth has been slow and many have had to settle for the lowest available low-wage jobs on the market, often with no career prospects with the company.

Rivas, who learned in September, months after she had moved, that the school would reinstate teachers’ full salaries, is not sure she can find new housing. Rents haven’t dropped, she says, and she could become just another California worker who can’t afford to live where she works, no matter how much she likes her job or how good at it.

“I think one of the key things to recognize is that economic value is increasingly based on information and knowledge, not work,” said Chris Benner, a professor of sociology at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Therefore, hard work and long hours are not rewarded as generously as ideas and information, and in the Bay Area, people’s ideas are often worth a lot in the form of investments, wealth, and net worth. But Benner notes that our system taxes income, not net worth, leading to a greater wealth disparity.

“It does not serve to redistribute wealth, it serves to increase government revenues,” adds Patricia Cain, professor of tax law at the Santa Clara University School of Law. As a result, economic growth does not translate into social inclusion.


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