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 economy is picking up steam with rising incomes and falling unemployment rates. But for those at the bottom of the economic ladder, it’s moving in the wrong direction, as they see the American Dream slipping from their grasp.
For those at the top, the economic recovery has been robust with appreciating portfolios and rising home values. UC Berkeley Public Policy Professor Robert Reich said for the working poor, it’s a different story.
“They feel like the game is rigged. In fact, a lot of middle class feel like the game is rigged. ‘I’m working harder than I’ve ever worked before and I’m getting nowhere,’” he explained.
San Jose State Sociology Professor Scott Myers-Lipton wonders how much longer we’ll tolerate the concentration of economic power.
“The one percent now almost controls 40 percent of all the wealth in the country. If you look at the top 10 percent, they control 75 percent of all the wealth,” Myers-Lipton said.
Meanwhile, the bottom 40 percent in the Bay Area are in poverty, or skating just above it, paycheck to paycheck, like Michael Johnson, a security guard at a major Silicon Valley technology company.
“It’s a very tight budget. A couple of times I decided not to eat so I could catch up because I still need gas so I can make it to work. I have to have that,” he said.
For John Forrey, a well-educated, 60-year-old stationery store clerk across the street from Twitter’s San Francisco headquarters he said he simply can’t take days off.
“Let me put it this way. I don’t see retirement in my future,” Forrey said.
Reich, a former Secretary of Labor, said the country needs to invest in public transit and housing, rein in Wall Street, and take corrupting contributions out of the political process.
“There’s no magic bullet. I think we do have to raise the minimum wage, expand something called the earned income tax credit; education investment in good early childhood K through 12, affordable higher education. Public education is critically important,” Reich argued.
One of the .1 percent, billionaire Marc Benioff, co-founder of Salesforce.com, said part of the answer must be for the Bay Area’s most successful to share their wealth. However, not many of his fellow CEOs and entrepreneurs share his commitment to philanthropy:
“I think you’d be surprised, (I’m not going to call anybody out) but it’s a big decision for people. They think that success is about making money, not necessarily giving it away. They need to realize their real happiness and the real joy in their life will be from giving back to others,” Benioff said.
Johnson, the security guard, said, at least the Bay Area is starting to see the plight of the working poor and the shrinking middle class, because for years, he’s felt invisible.
“You just want some dignity and respect. That’s what it boils down to,” he said.