Scraping by to live in San Francisco is something San Franciscans generally have an ample amount of sympathy for. But last week, we learned how far such sympathies can go, thanks to an article in The Guardian. The article shared the accounts of tech workers who make six-digit figures struggling to make ends meet. The responses were, unexpectedly, not kind.
The range of emotions the article brought out on social media was wide and varied, from mocked pity, schadenfreude to genuine empathy for the tech workers in the story. It’s become a Rorschach test of its own; what you see in the article says more about you than the article itself.
Admittedly, there is plenty of material to make anyone — including me — laugh in disbelief or anger. “We make over $1M between us, but we can’t afford a house,” was an actual quote uttered by an actual person living among us. Another person priced out of the Bay Area said he won’t miss the day-to-day expenses, like “spending $8 on a bagel and coffee or $12 on freshly pressed juice.”
It’s hard to feel any sympathy when people talk like this,as if they talk a different language. (I suggest naming that language Ivory Towerian.)
But there is a surprising amount of introspection on behalf from the exact same people in the story. They are human enough to understand the deep irony in the story they are being quoted on. “You are literally stepping over people to get to your job to make hundreds of thousands of dollars,” said the former $12 juice buyer. “How do you go about your daily life as if it doesn’t matter?”
The author, too, get the irony of her own story. “Complaints from well-compensated tech workers will sound like chutzpah to many of the other 99% who are struggling to get by on a fraction of their income,” she wrote. To provide balance to the tech workers sharing their plight, the author quoted a member of the San Francisco Housing Rights Committee who defines what real struggle looks like. While these tech workers certainly have the money and agency to leave the Bay Area whenever, the elderly, the disabled and the poor don’t have that luxury. High rent, for the marginalized, can be a life-or-death factor.
This depth of layers in the story is why I think it’s worth talking about today rather than poo-pooing as The Guardian — home to the great feature examining Alex Nieto’s death titled “Death by Gentrification” — giving Silicon Valley a pity lifeline.
The fact that the housing crisis has now hit home for the six-digit-earning tech workers indicates a systemic failure in San Francisco has taken place. Tech companies are importing workers en masse into San Francisco with lucrative salaries that push non-tech people to the fringes. City government has not done any checks to push against that tide.
With larger pieces in place, one should not be so quick to pin the issue on the individuals. It’s possible that the workers interviewed are really terrible with money or so stubborn about paying ridiculous rent limited to a very small geographic area, but that misses the underlying point of the story. Where there’s smoke, there’s fire. This story is a thick, black smoke clouding the Peninsula.
With indiscriminate deportations and border detainments happening every day, it’s hard to pick out one example to get the blood boiling. But last week, a Nigerian software engineer was detained in New York’s JFK airport and was questioned by a Customs and Border Protection officer who wanted to see if he was a real engineer.
Questions like “write a function to check if a Binary Search Tree is balanced” or “what is an abstract class, and why do you need it?” has absolutely no place in a CBP office of any airport. Most engineers who deal with such questions just search the answer online. This episode was, at its very best intention by the CBP, a severely flawed assumption that engineers somehow memorize complex solutions.
But regardless of CBP’s intentions, why does one need to prove he’s an engineer to enter the United
I am an immigrant myself. I came to the country from South Korea in 2000 with my family. My father was college-educated, but like so many highly educated immigrants, he resorted to taking odd jobs to feed the family. But now he runs a small business .
If my father was asked by the CBP about economics, his major in college, he would have had little to no chance of getting in the United States.
The opportunity cost is far more than one less engineer or business owner. It is the loss of the character of the United States that have, in part, created Silicon Valley. Let’s hope the CBP — and its superiors — will not lose track of that.
The Nexus covers the intersection of technology, business and culture in San Francisco and beyond. Write to Seung at email@example.com.