Despite tech wealth, SF pockmarked with poverty 

click to enlarge S.F. EXAMINER FILE PHOTO
  • S.F. Examiner file photo
A walk down the streets of San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood, where many of The City’s nonprofits serving the poorest are located, quickly disabuses anyone of the idea that The City’s streets are paved with bitcoins.

San Francisco may rank among the nation’s top cities for affluence, have one of the priciest rental markets and be home to billion dollar startups, but the City is pockmarked with poverty.

As a whole The City has one of the state’s lowest official poverty rates – 13 percent – but according to an economic profile of San Francisco released earlier this year by the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, numerous area’s measured by the U.S. Census had rates nearly twice as high.

The report highlights the contrast between pockets of poverty and the surrounding affluence and is one more sign of the growing gap between San Francisco’s haves and have-nots.

And despite the financial divide, many of the poorest parts of town sit within a stone’s throw of the toniest.

For example, an area stretching from Hayes Valley into the Tenderloin had a poverty rate of 28 percent and a median household income of $22,252. Not far off, the Marina and Cow Hollow had a poverty rate of 6 percent and a median income of $107,226.

The City’s median household income is $73,802.

But just over the hill in Chinatown, 24 percent of households are in poverty and the median household income is $33,979.

South of Market, were many tech firms have opened shop and The Bayview – not but a ten minute drive from Bernal Heights – had poverty rates of about 22 percent.

“Clearly there are quite a range of economics in the within The City,” said Sarah Bohn, an economist with the Public Policy Institute of California. “There’s a lot of high wage jobs here, there’s a lot of opportunity, but it’s not definitely true that everyone can access that.”

Bohn says that older cities, with settled patterns of income and housing, often have more varied incomes than newer suburbs.

“We are facing increasing income disparity and San Francisco in many ways is the tale of two cities: One increasingly poor and one… affluent,” said Jennifer Friedenbach, executive director of the Coalition on Homelessness.

Nick Kimura, a volunteer for the Coalition on Homelessness, said that in recent years the concentration of poor in certain areas in The City has increased. Since there are so few neighborhoods with affordable rents, displacement by evictions, for instance, pushes people to areas where there are already lots of poor.

But the breakdown in geographical terms of San Francisco’s income divide, says Bohn, doesn’t reflect the true level of poverty in The City.

A report released last year by the PPIC used a different measurement to assess socio-economic status – called the California Poverty Measure – and found that San Francisco had a poverty rate of 23 percent as opposed to the federal measurement of 12 percent that year.

“In contrast to the official poverty measure, the CPM incorporates the state’s high—and variable—cost of living and the effect of social safety net programs,” noted the PPIC. According to the measure, the threshold for poverty is about $36,000 for a family of four.

Household poverty rates in census areas:

Hayes Valley, Tenderloin: 28 percent

Chinatown: 24 percent

South of Market: 22.7 percent

Bayview: 22.2 percent

Lake Merced: 20.3 percent

North Beach, Fisherman’s Wharf: 19.1 percent

About The Author

Jonah Owen Lamb

Jonah Owen Lamb

Born and raised on a houseboat in Sausalito, Lamb has written for newspapers in New York City, Utah and the San Joaquin Valley. He was most recently an editor at the San Luis Obispo Tribune for nearly three years. He has written for The S.F. Examiner since 2013 and covers criminal justice and planning.
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