In many ways, Palo Alto, CA, is a paradise. This wealthy Silicon Valley town is built on the backs of tech companies like Google, Facebook, Palantir, and countless others. But with the explosive growth of these companies have come some serious problems.
Housing is unaffordable to all but a few. Traffic is horrific. And many people get terrible cell coverage, because Palo Alto lacks the infrastructure to sustain its population.
Which is why Palo Alto mayor recently said, “Big tech companies are choking off the downtown. It’s not healthy.”
Many residents were quick to call him an idiot -- but, honestly, I kind of agree with him. In addition to solving many of the city's affordability problems, encouraging tech companies to open offices in more affordable locations could be a very important social justice issue.
As it is now, the only people who can take an entry-level, non-technical jobs here are the ones who can afford to live here on an entry-level salary -- which often means having a trust fund or help from your family. Which isn't a problem for more privileged graduates. But look at what happened to former Yelp employee Talia Jane when she took a customer service job in San Francisco:
"I can’t afford to buy groceries... Because 80 percent of my income goes to paying my rent." Read more >
Now, to be fair, it was a totally stupid decision to move to the Bay Area and live in a one-bedroom that cost 80% of her salary, instead of taking a job somewhere else or living with housemates. But it's not like she would have been able to find a place here that was that much cheaper. And it sucks that she should have to walk away from a great opportunity because she couldn't afford to live here.
Because here's the thing about working in tech:
No one ever got rich off a salary.
One of the perks of working at a startup -- other than the chance to create real value in the world -- is that you get stock options and other benefits that could make you wealthy. A system that keeps graduates with student loans/from low-income families out of the startup world... is a system that exacerbates the wealth gap.
You could argue that all the money that was going to be made at Facebook or Cisco has already been made. But what about all the other startups that are vying for office space in the Silicon Valley?
As long as they're here, they’re contributing to a system in which the only graduates who can afford the opportunity to be early startup employees... are the privileged ones.
Now, to be fair, some tech companies have recognized this problem. Even before Talia Jane wrote her open letter, Eat24/Yelp had opened a new customer service office in Phoenix -- which is actually a pretty cool place to live.
Meanwhile, Tesla was working on its new Gigafactory in Nevada, and other tech companies were looking for office space in Watsonville and other non-Bay Area locations.
This is a good thing.
Especially because, as I mentioned above, startups have the potential to create real value in the world -- from lifesaving technologies to new jobs. The future of America isn't in manufacturing or farming. It's in innovation.
But look at this chart, from Andrew Yang's Smart People Should Build Things: How to Restore Our Culture of Achievement, Build a Path for Entrepreneurs, and Create Jobs in America:
Over half of our top graduates do the same six things after graduation (and the reason why is depressing). And yes, medicine is important. Yes, lots of cool research comes out of grad school. (Science for the sake of science is one of the best things ever.)
But! Teach for America is a terrible program. There’s no evidence it helps low-income kids at all, and it fails to address the actual problem most disadvantaged schools face: low teacher retention.
And! Finance, consulting and law do nothing to create value. They just move shit around. According to Yang, many young people in these professions hate it, and are only doing it for the security and prestige that come with the job.
So the Tl;Dr here is that startup and tech jobs are awesome -- but as long as they all want to be here, they're going to create problems. Not just for people who live and work in Palo Alto -- but for people who want to close the wealth gap. For people who care about social justice. For people who truly want to hire the most qualified candidates, and not just the ones who can afford to live in the Bay Area.
The good news is, there are plenty of cool startups in emerging cities, like Miami, Providence, New Orleans, and Charlotte -- but these cities are growing fast, so if you're thinking of making the leap, sooner might be better than later.
According to Movoto, Charlotte ("the California of the East Coast") is basically a brand new city.
About the Author
Eva is a content specialist with a passion for play, travel... and a little bit of girl power. Read more >
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