San Franciscans see themselves as denizens of the most progressive city on earth, with European attitudes toward caring for the less fortunate residents among them. From a universal health care program to protections for undocumented immigrants to the highest minimum wage of any major US city, citizens of the City by the Bay often boast about what a compassionate place it is.
But in reality, San Francisco is less Scandinavian and more Sub-Saharan African when it comes to income inequality, according to a recently-released report from the city’s Human Services Agency. The report details the notoriously expensive city’s growing gap between rich and poor, and the news is not good. The rich are getting richer, the poor are getting poorer and the middle class are leaving town in droves, headed to more affordable locations and turning the city into something of a haven for the well-off.
Gini Coefficient is a formula used by the World Bank, the Central Intelligence Agency and other groups to measure inequality. According to the new report, if San Francisco were a country, it would be the 20th most unequal on earth.
To put things in perspective, San Francisco’s Gini Coefficient of 0.523 is roughly on par with Rwanda, one of the world’s poorest and most unequal nations. Rwanda actually scored slightly better than San Francisco, with a 0.508 Gini Coefficient (0.000 indicates perfect equality, 1.000 denotes the worst inequality). The city fared better than Guatemala (0.559) but far worse than Sweden (0.250) and Denmark (0.240) and worse than the United States as a whole (0.450).
Of course, when considering the social services and charity that aid the poor in San Francisco, it is inaccurate to simply compare statistics and conclude that the city’s poor are as bad off as their developing world counterparts. But the figures do demonstrate the yawning– and growing– gap between ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’ in a city enjoying a tech and real estate boom.
Those booms are part of the reason for the growing income and wealth gaps. While Twitter’s IPO made more than 1,600 new instant millionaires, the company’s new downtown headquarters sits literally around the corner from the destitution of Skid Row and in the middle of a zone that’s home to thousands of homeless people.
All that new tech money also means rents and home prices have soared beyond the reach of most residents. The average one-bedroom apartment now rents for more than $3,000. The median home price has topped $1 million. A recent report by mortgage tracking firm HSH Associates found that a San Francisco resident must earn at least $137,129 in order to afford a home there, nearly $40,000 more than what’s required in New York City and more than four times the income necessary to purchase a home in Cleveland, Pittsburgh or St. Louis.
San Francisco’s growing inequality has sparked a growing protest movement against gentrification and the tech companies such as Google that contribute much to the region’s economy but also play a significant role in driving up housing, rental and other prices. Critics claim these protesters are targeting successful companies and individuals as an act of class warfare or even jealousy; activists say they’re trying to preserve the diversity and character of one of America’s few truly unique cities.
“It’s not about knocking wealthy people for being wealthy,” Andrew Russo, director of San Francisco Family Support Network, told the San Francisco Chronicle. “It’s about looking at how do we support families of all incomes to be able to live here – that’s part of the rich diversity of San Francisco.”
“A city without families is a city without vibrancy and life,” Russo added. “A city without children seems like a weird, dystopian universe.”