In a dispatch from California’s Silicon Valley, Bill Moyers points out that while the wealthy are busy hiding their money in secret off-shore accounts, the middle class is disappearing and the poor are homeless.
“Inequality matters,” Moyers begins. “You’ll hear people say it doesn’t but they’re usually so high up the income ladder they can’t even see those at the bottom, but the distance between the first and the last in America is vast and growing.”
He pointed to a recent Washington Post story about two counties in Florida, St. Johns and Putnam, that were not only separated dramatically by income and housing value, but also by life expectancy. Life expectancy in the poorer Putnam county hasn’t changed much since 1989, where it’s just over 78 for women and just over 71 for men, seven years less than in the neighboring St. Johns county.
“In California’s Silicon Valley, Apple, Facebook and Google, among others, have reinvented the Gold Rush. But down the road in San Jose it’s not so pretty a picture,” Moyers explained. “Do the math: in an area where one fourth of the population earn an average of about $19,000 dollars a year, rent alone can average more than $20,000 dollars a year, and that difference adds up to homelessness.”
Associated press reporter Martha Mendoza said that in her 25 years of reporting, she’s basically seen the middle class disappear. “Nowhere do you see that more than in the Silicon Valley, where 25 years ago this was a place of orchards and farms and ranching and small businesses, and it has completely changed now so that you have incredibly wealthy people and incredibly poor people and a growing gap,” she said. “Homelessness has increased dramatically. In the shadow of Google, in the shadow of Oracle, in the shadow of Apple Computer, you have people who are hungry.”
Cindy Chavez, director of Working Partnerships USA, agreed. “People had this belief that somehow Silicon Valley was paved with gold—and I would even say my parents, coming from New Mexico, all those years ago when I was very small, I mean they came here looking for opportunity,” she said. “I think that’s a dream that a lot of people come to Silicon Valley with, and one of the problems is that it’s not like that for everybody. We have really been a tale of two cities for really a long time.”
Russell Hancock, president and CEO of Joint Venture Silicon Valley, points out, “Our economic expansion is pretty staggering, people have referred to it as the longest, most sustained, largest, legal wealth creation in the history of the planet. We have very high-income, highest in the nation. We also have very low. We’ve got both. And what’s actually happening right now is a hollowing out in the middle.”
Moyers interviewed 52-year-old Theresa Frigge, who worked in Silicon Valley’s now-disappeared manufacturing sectors. “I’ve got nothing,” she said from her home under a bridge.
Mendoza explained that during the valley’s boom, they only added two houses for every job, creating a severe housing shortage and skyrocketing housing prices. “In the Silicon Valley, this is a lot of freeway living and the homeless people they live along the creeks, or in parks, but where people aren’t going to see them, so it’s more of a hidden problem,” she said. “Silicon Valley has the brainpower and has the risky personality to do some really innovative things when it comes to poverty. … Wouldn’t it be something if that area could also be the one that sparks the brilliance that starts to solve this really major problem?”
Moyers then turns to clips of news anchors reporting record high stock trading. “No one stopped to point out that when the market goes up, it can mean companies have fired workers in order to increase investor profits. Sure enough, the latest figures show employment has barely risen and more rank-and-file Americans have gone missing from the job market altogether,” he said.
Meanwhile, The Center for Public Integrity and its International Consortium of Investigative Journalists recently released a report on 2.5 million files showing the wealthy had hidden money in off-shore accounts, including over 4,000 Americans.
“So it shouldn’t surprise us to learn that the United States collects less in taxes as a share of its economy than all but two other industrialized countries,” Moyers said. “Our political class in Washington is attempting to fix the debt by sequestration – Washington doublespeak for bleeding services for veterans and the elderly, the sick and poor, for kids in Head Start.”
“Marching in lockstep beneath a banner that now stands for ‘Guardians of Privilege’ — GOP — Republicans refuse to raise revenues, while Democrats have a president whose new budget contains gimmicks that could lead to cuts in Social Security,” Moyers continued. “Social Security! The one universal safety net — and a modest one at that – and yet the main source of purchasing power for millions of aging Americans. This, from a Democrat – the heir of Franklin Delano Roosevelt who pulled us to our feet when the Great Depression had America on its knees.”
“A petty, narcissistic, pridefully ignorant politics has come to dominate and paralyze our government,” Moyers ended, “while millions of people keep falling through the gaping hole that has turned us into the United States of Inequality.”
Watch the video posted on BillMoyers.com on April 12.