Current State of Poverty in the Bay Area

December 20, 2016

By: Kevin Slattery

United Way Bay Area represents one of the largest metropolitan areas in the country, a diverse community known not only for its great wealth, innovation, and highly educated workforce, but also increasingly known for wage inequality, skyrocketing housing costs, and an inaccessibility to resources that is leaving many hardworking people behind.

A recent report found that nearly 30 percent of Bay Area’s residents are unable to make ends meet. The report, The Broken Pathway: Uncovering the Economic Inequality in the Bay Area (PDF) by JobTrain, a Menlo Park-based nonprofit organization, estimated that 29.2 percent of Bay Area residents or roughly 1.45 million people, are not self-sufficient, meaning that don’t have a stable place to live and aren’t able to cover the basics for survival.

“The number of people living below both the poverty line and the self-sufficiency standard is a major issue in the Bay Area which tends to be overshadowed by the strength of the region’s overall economy,” said Anne Wilson, CEO of United Way Bay Area. The self-sufficiency standard varies and is higher than the poverty line. For example, in Alameda County, the self sufficiency is $27,994 for a single adult, while the federal poverty line is $11,880.

When breaking down the 1.45 million number in the report, according to the recent U.S. Census Bureau data, San Francisco County had the highest poverty rate in the Bay Area, with an estimated 12 percent of its population living below the poverty line in 2015. And it’s systemic – Alameda County: 11 percent; Contra Costa County: 10 percent; San Mateo County: 8.4 percent and Santa Clara County: 8 percent.

In the metropolitan region of San Francisco, Hayward and Oakland — considered one of the 25 most populous regions in the country — an estimated 485,000 individuals were living in poverty in 2015, a slight drop from 491,000 individuals in 2014.

However, the data failed to provide a comprehensive look at poverty because the numbers are one-dimensional. For example, the data does not account for the many Bay Area residents forced to leave the region due to high housing costs.

“Things have improved for some, but not for most,” said Megan Joseph, Executive Director of Rise Together, a Bay Area nonprofit supported by United Way. “The poor are getting poorer and the rich are getting richer. And the middle is struggling. We’re essentially losing the middle class.”

This is what we at United Way Bay Area are focused on every day. And we believe that battling an issue as big as poverty can only be achieved if we are all in, and having one in four people living in poverty in the Bay Area is unacceptable. Forward looking, United Way continues to work with community leaders, businesses, policymakers, nonprofits, and individuals to effect positive change on a scale that no single organization or individual can achieve on its own.

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