Picture of SF’s extreme income equality worth thousands of words

Pub date June 16, 2014
SectionPolitics Blog

Sometimes visuals paint a picture in a visceral way that mere numbers can’t, and that was the case when the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project recently released a graph highlighting the magnitude of San Francisco’s high rate of income inequality growth and how it compares to other major cities around the country. San Francisco’s purple bubble is floating way up, all alone, above Atlanta, Georgia’s orange bubble and everyone else closely grouped together. 

The graph’s findings reveal the sad but well-known fact that San Francisco is widely unequal, and it comes as little surprise that from 2007 to 2012, SF saw its income gap grow faster than any other major city in the United States.

The visualization cited a Brookings Institute report on income inequality released in February, which found the income of San Francisco’s low-earning residents (more specifically, those in the 20th percentile of yearly income) dropped by an average of $4,000 during that timespan, while the highest-earning residents (the 95th percentile) saw their income jump by an average of $28,000 over the same period. The latter figure was the largest gain in any American city, and it affirms what’s already clear to city residents: The rich are getting richer while the poor continue to get poorer.

That message might seem like old news to those familiar with San Francisco’s income inequality issues, but the truly alarming part of the study is the rate at which the trend is occurring. Though it provides further confirmation of an unpleasant fact that has plagued San Francisco residents for years, the unprecedented speed of the income gap’s increase is especially startling given the efforts to rectify the issue. As the mapping project pointed out, “trickle-down economics does not appear to be working” in San Francisco.

The gap has become so pronounced that the city’s 2012 GINI Coefficient (which measures income distribution) of .523 would make it the 14th-most economically unequal country in the world if San Francisco were its own nation. That’s right in line with countries that are widely known for their income inequality, like Paraguay and Chile, and more than twice as unequal as top-ranked Sweden.

Perhaps the best indication of this growing division has been the drastic increase in evictions throughout the city. The Anti-Eviction Mapping Project has worked to shed light on the issue, releasing time lapses showing the evictions while making it clear that seniors and disabled people aren’t immune to the trend either.

The Anti-Eviction Mapping Project is probably best known for protesting the Google tech buses, whose effects on local communities they’ve researched extensively. The organizations’ maps showlinks between the location of bus stops and a large number of evictions in the same areas.

Developing nations with income gaps akin to San Francisco’s don’t have tech buses driving around their streets, so it’s no surprise that the buses’ unpaid use of public bus stops hasn’t left residents of lower income areas particularly thrilled, especially with the tech sector pushing up the price of housing in those areas while contributing heavily to the results of the Brookings Institute report.