Can working families afford Silicon Valley?

August 25, 2008 7:41:40 PM PDT
A research group is painting a sobering look at the Silicon Valley economy. It is predicting tough times ahead for lower wage workers as high paying, high-tech jobs disappear.

Never mind that many high tech companies are reporting profits, and green tech holds great promise for the future -- Silicon valley is changing, and not for the better for working class and middle class families.

"The industry mix is changing in Silicon Valley. It's moving further toward the service sector, where an increasing proportion of jobs pays subpar wages, lacks benefits, offers little or no security," said Louise Auerhahn from Working Partnerships USA.

Auerhahn and her colleagues at Working Partnerships have just released a major analysis of the valley's economy.

Among its key findings:

  • Job growth was only 1.7 percent over the past four years, the lowest in 50 years.
  • New jobs being created are paying 41 percent lower than the jobs being lost.
  • Inflation over the past eight years is also making it difficult to make ends meet.
  • Gasoline is up 139 percent.
  • Health care is up 119 percent.
  • Child care is up 64 percent.
  • Electricity is up 50 percent.

    By comparison, wages have gone up 32 percent.

    Working Partnerships wants to see more job training programs, such as this partnership between valley transit and the transit union.

    Nadine Lomas is one of 10 employees on a career path to become mechanics.

    "Not only am I going to be learning mechanics, but we're being prepared to be ASE-certified. We're being prepared to become heavy diesel transit mechanics," said Lomas.

    However, training will need to be geared to job openings.

    "We are concerned about training 10,000 people to put solar panels on roofs and maybe we don't need to put solar panels on roofs. Maybe the technology will change, maybe there won't be that many houses built," said Auerhahn.

    While the valley has challenges, there is confidence everyone can work together.

    "We have common ground. What's exciting about that is that means we can be working together to solve them, and fortunately in this valley, whether your management or worker, business or labor, we do work together," said Carl Guardino from Silicon Valley Leadership Group.


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