San Francisco City Hall. (Courtesy photo)

To close the income gap, our city government must first lead by example

The City and County of San Francisco has long been known for its progressive values. Especially when it comes to the big policy challenges gripping so many American communities, like economic inequality.

You’d be hard pressed to find a city leader who hasn’t talked about the need to make our community more livable and affordable, and to close the income gap by strengthening the middle class.

But the reality is that San Francisco is not living up to this promise. Recent research shows that between 2010 and 2017, the share of middle income city residents has shrunk from 52 percent to 45 percent. Low and middle income people are leaving the city, and being replaced by people who make much higher incomes.

With more than 30,000 workers, The City is our community’s largest employer. Its workforce investments and employment practices can have an outsized impact on these trends. And they have.

While our community’s middle class has shrunk over the last decade, The City’s revenues have nearly doubled. The cumulative surplus has swelled to over $5 billion—not including another $415 million in ERAF funds being recouped from the state. It has gone from spending 44 percent to just 41 percent of its annual budget on its workforce. Only about one-third of its workers are now able to live in San Francisco, and with the cost of living rising as much as 6.5 percent faster than wages, we are almost certain to see more of our career civil servants leave our community in the coming years.

Too often, San Francisco has seemed eager to embrace such a future. Over the last five years, it has more than tripled its spending on outsourcing public services to private contractors, and nearly doubled its reliance on temporary workers who lack access to basic workplace protections.

Setting aside the inequality such practices foment, these patterns also pose a direct threat to The City’s ability to attract and retain the skilled professionals it needs to deliver essential services and execute on important policy goals. The labor market is tight, and few workers will want to commute two to three hours each day to serve a community they cannot afford to live in.

Thousands of frontline professionals make our city run and form the backbone of its middles class. We work each day to make sure our water is clean, deliver health, and family services to those in need, combat homelessness, maintain our parks, operate transit systems and create other vital infrastructure. And we know that to close the income and livability gap that has widened over the last decade, a course correction is needed.

That’s why we are calling on our elected officials to lead first by example to rebuild our city’s middle class, by restoring investment in the public service workers it has tasked with executing an ambitious agenda and ending the practice of outsourcing these jobs to private contractors that often pay less.

As San Franciscans, this moment will test our commitment to closing the income and affordability gap that is driving families from our community. It is a chance for city politicians to align their budget priorities with their political rhetoric. And we ask that our neighbors demand nothing less of them.

Gus Vallejo is the President of International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers Local 21, which represents more than 5600 professional public service workers for the City and County of San Francisco—including architects, engineers, scientists, planners, analysts, IT workers, and advocates. Learn more at

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