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KCBS Cover Story Series: Getting By – The Bay Area’s Growing Income Inequality

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Demonstrators carry signs as they stage a protest demanding government action to create jobs outside of U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein's (D-CA) office on September 15, 2010 in San Francisco, California. Dozens of protestors demonstrated outside of Sen. Feinstein's office urging the senator to end the recession by creating jobs. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Demonstrators carry signs as they stage a protest demanding government action to create jobs. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

DougSovern20100908_KCBS_0208r Doug Sovern
Doug began his career as a copy boy at the New York Times, and then...
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Doug Sovern’s KCBS Cover Story Series: Getting By airs on KCBS 740AM/106.9FM through Friday at 6:30am, 8:30am, 12:30pm and 4:30pm, March 24-28.

San Francisco (KCBS) – The Bay Area is grappling with an accelerating shift in its socioeconomic structure. The rich are getting richer, the poor are getting poorer and the middle class is, simply, disappearing. In a five-part Cover Story series, KCBS’ Doug Sovern investigates just how hard it is for working-class people to make a living and how quickly American dream for advancement is slipping away.

Homeless people steal bottles and cans from the recycling bins of the upper middle class, protesters blockade Google and Apple buses—emblematic of income inequality—in San Francisco’s Mission District and local politicians scramble to “save the middle class.”

On the national level, President Obama has made the widening economic chasm the signature issue of this year’s midterm elections saying “this is the defining challenge of our time; making sure our economy works for every working American.”

It isn’t working, however, for many living the Bay Area like Clifton Harrison, a retiree trying to survive on a fixed income while rents have soared around him.

“They want us to look like San Francisco does now. I mean that’s where we’re headed,” he said.

Meanwhile in Silicon Valley, Michael Johnson, works as a security guard for high-tech superstars there but makes tiny fraction of what they do with no benefits.

“I get by the grace of God,” he said.

Meghan Fraley, an organizer with the group Politically Inspired Action in Mountain View, calls the income inequality in Silicon Valley ‘’absolutely staggering.”

“We have the highest per capita number of millionaires and billionaires and yet people can’t put food on their table,” she said.

Robert Reich, Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at UC Berkeley, and former secretary of labor under President Bill Clinton said 65 percent of Americans are “living paycheck to paycheck.” But a new Brookings Institute study reports the picture is even bleaker in the Bay Area.

According the report, San Francisco has the second greatest inequality gap in the country is; Oakland came in at number seven. San Francisco also has the distinction of the having the most rapidly growing income gap.

“Ninety-five percent of the gains of the 2009, since the recovery started, have gone to the top one percent,” Reich said.

“Well how does the vast middle-class—and the poor—simply have enough money? The answer is they don’t.”

Reich said the Bay Area is splitting between haves and have-nots with the top few percent taking most of the pie while bottom 20 to 40 percent are desperate to get a share of the crumbs.

“I don’t think that most upper middle-class people appreciate the extent to which the working poor are just doing everything in their power to get by.”

Tuesday’s report will focus on people’s lives in San Francisco, where the income inequality is on stark display and how the latest technology boom is transforming the city.

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