What's the Real Jobs Story?

Reflections on the San Francisco Bay Area

I just returned from a family spring break vacation in California. On our road trip from Los Angeles to San Francisco, we visited the Chinese American Museum and Japanese American National Museum, drove up the Salinas Valley, took an LGBTQ history walking tour of the Castro, and explored the WPA murals at Coit Tower.

When we arrived in the Bay Area, a place I have been visiting on and off for over 20 years, I was struck by how unaffordable everything has become and what that means for who can actually live and work there. Tech has truly transformed the region, and Silicon Valley now extends far beyond its original geographic hub. We’ve seen a growing divide in what jobs are available in the Bay Area and who can access the good ones.

A decade ago, as the nation recovered from the Great Recession, economic developers and political leaders touted the tech industry’s multiplier effect: Each new tech job indirectly created four other jobs in the area. What this shiny statistic ignores, ReWork the Bay’s Rob Hope tells us, is the fact that most of the indirect jobs created are low-paying service jobs and that the high-paying tech jobs are fundamentally changing the economics of the region.

For instance, a tech job in San Francisco may create jobs for an office cleaner, a cook, a dishwasher, and a barista. These are often low quality jobs that are disproportionately filled by people of color and don’t pay a living wage. Often, these workers face long commutes from far-flung communities, limited or unaffordable housing, little to no healthcare benefits, and other challenges to make ends meet in an impossibly expensive region.

We fall into a similar trap when we look at the coverage of the monthly Department of Labor jobs and employment numbers. The focus on top-line numbers misses so much – racial disparities and occupational segregation and the quality of jobs created, to name a few. In other words, they don’t reflect the fullness of workers’ lives and the broader systems that impact their ability to thrive in a job.

That’s why last year we launched The State of Our Workforce, a monthly video chat where we dig beneath the numbers and explore what’s really going on. [Follow the National Fund for Workforce Solutions on LinkedIn to get updates about future episodes.]

Thankfully, in the Bay Area, the conversation is moving beyond the multiplier effect to disaggregate data and track equity indicators, whether in the Advancing Workforce Equity blueprint, or Rework the Bay’s newest data tool, State of Bay Area Workers. Reports and data are the beginning, not the end, of building a more equitable economy, but they’re critical for understanding root causes and tracking progress and impact.

As we experience a “post-pandemic” labor market, we must keep digging for the real story, shift our efforts toward equity, and design better solutions.

Amanda Cage

-- President and CEO, National Fund for Workforce Solutions