East Palo Alto’s growing income discrepancy

As written in my last post, I’m taking a section from the Net Positive Bay Area team’s write-up on the City of East Palo Alto as part of the Affordable Solar initiative. Writing credit goes to my staff writer Katyayani R., and my edits are included below.

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Ingenuity in Silicon Valley has been instrumental in driving the Bay Area towards innovation and economic boom. And while technological expansion has created jobs and monetary benefits to the Valley, there exists a 2.6 square-mile land area that is nestled between Menlo Park, Redwood City and Palo Alto that was bypassed by this growth. This is the City of East Palo Alto, a city that has been historically disadvantaged with unjust housing laws and racial segregation. A city faced with many lessons in resiliency, the community has a strong history to prove its dynamism. Yet under the lens, this city shows a staggering level of economic disparity in contrast to its affluent neighboring cities.

City of EPA

Figure 1: Map showing East Palo Alto (shaded in red) and its rich neighbors – Cities of Palo Alto, Mountain View, Atherton, and Los Altos – and famous tech giants of the Bay Area

Widening Prosperity Gap in East Palo Alto

East Palo Alto is a racially diverse city whose predominant population has shifted over time. In the 1960s, it was primarily an African-American dominated community, but it now has an Hispanic/Latino majority. In the 2010 Bay Area Census data, the top racial makeup of the city indicated 64% Hispanic/Latino, 16% Black, and 11% Asian/Pacific Islander. What is most striking about the city’s population in recent history is how little of Silicon Valley’s prosperity and wealth has percolated into East Palo Alto. In the same census, the median family income in East Palo Alto is less than $50,000, while in Palo Alto, home to Stanford University and separated only by highway US-101, is north of $160,000. The stark difference in median income is not an outlier but rather a repeating pattern since the 1970s.  A closer look at the nominal income of East Palo Alto and its neighboring cities since 1970 to 2010 shows that while the median family income dramatically increased over the last two decades in all Bay Area cities, East Palo Alto is the only city that experienced stunted growth relative to its wealthy neighbors.

Bay Area Median Family Income (1970-2010)

Figure 2: Growth in median family income between 1970-2010s among four Bay Area cities shows how East Palo Alto is left behind by the region’s transformation. Source: Bay Area Census (1970-2000) & American Community Survey (2006-2010)

Growing inequality in educational attainment is another symptom of a widening income gap. Per classic economic theory, education is the catalyst that triggers great inventions, innovation, and economic development. In case of the Bay Area where demand for skilled workers soared in the past 20 years, this holds true except in the City of East Palo Alto, where the highest level of education attained by over a third of its adult populace is a high school diploma. Low levels of learning by the City’s majority is also reflected in a very high percentage of blue collar jobs, a stark contrast to a large majority of white-collar jobs in the surrounding cities of Menlo Park, Palo Alto and Mountain View.

Education & employment patterns

Figure 3: Changes in educational levels and employment patterns across four Bay Area cities between 2000 and 2010 show the prevalence of low educational attainment and low-earning jobs that disadvantage East Palo Alto communities. Source: Bay Area Census (1970-2000), American Community Survey (2006-2010)

These statistics reveal a picture of a struggling East Palo Alto vis-a-vis the flourishing growth and economic advancement of its wealthy neighbors. The technology revolution that took off since the 1970s and rewarded Bay Area cities with wealth and prosperity largely eluded the City of East Palo Alto. This circle of poverty continues to affect East Palo Alto, where low income levels is affected by low education attainment and translates into the lack of better employment opportunities. However, an emerging green economy offers opportunities for low income residents in East Palo Alto to break this cycle and benefit from financial savings, improvement in quality of life, and unlock potential higher-earning job opportunities in the long-run.

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To learn more about the need for a Green Economy in low-income communities like East Palo Alto, read the rest of the article.

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