The Good News About Working in the Bay Area: For Many, Wages Are Very High

(Mark Andrew Boyer/KQED)
(Mark Andrew Boyer/KQED)

Before anything else, let’s glory in our superiority. On average, people in the Bay Area are making a lot of money (too bad so much goes to keeping a roof over our heads).

The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, in its latest numbers on employment and wages throughout the United States, says average wages throughout the region are generally much higher than the national average of $22.33 an hour. The South Bay average is $34.45 an hour, which is 54 percent above the national average; in the San Francisco area, it’s $32.41, which is 45 percent higher than the U.S. mean; and in the East Bay, it’s $28.70, or 28.5 percent higher than the all-American average. Those newly released stats are all from May 2013, by the way.

Beyond the “we sure make a lot of money hereabouts” headline, the bureau’s numbers render a sharp statistical snapshot of the technology workforce and its economic impact in the region.

First, note that while tech workers are well paid, they’re not the highest-paid folks in the region. According to the bureau’s report, that distinction belongs in the Bay Area and nationwide to medical professionals: Psychiatrists, anesthesiologists, surgeons, obstetricians and gynecologists, orthodontists and oral-maxillofacial surgeons are at or near the top of the money list in every California metro area, with average yearly wages topping $200,000. Chief executive officers and lawyers also are among the top-paid professions.

Second, while there are a lot of tech workers here — by one measure, the South Bay has the highest concentration of technology workers in the country — other metro areas (Washington, D.C., Seattle and New York) have a significantly higher number of people working in what the BLS calls “Computer and Mathematical Occupations.”

Third, the BLS stats are a reminder that in many parts of the Bay Area, a great majority of people are working outside the technology industry. In the area the bureau calls San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara (actually comprised of Santa Clara and San Benito counties), those in “Office and Administrative Support Positions,” a category ranging from bill collectors to gaming-cage workers, outnumber tech workers roughly 122,000 to 97,000. In the San Francisco-San Mateo-Redwood City area (corresponding to Marin, San Francisco and San Mateo counties), the tech worker population is outnumbered by those working in office support, sales, food services, financial services and management occupations.

So why does tech employment have such an outsize impact here?

The bureau’s statistics suggest it’s a combination of that high concentration of tech workers here combined with the wages the industry pays. In Silicon Valley, tech workers make up about four times the share of the workforce than they do nationwide — about 10.5 percent versus 2.8 percent across the entire U.S. labor pool. In the San Francisco region, 6.8 percent of workers are in tech occupations.

And the pay? Perhaps reflecting and partially feeding the unhappy reality of Bay Area property prices, tech wages here are the highest in the country. In Silicon Valley, the BLS says the mean annual tech wage is $115,870, the equivalent of $55.71 an hour. In San Francisco, the figures are $103,780 and $49.89. Those salaries are ahead of every other tech hub in the country.

A glance at the other end of the wage spectrum also provides some concrete evidence of the have/have-not divide that’s led to our regional uneasiness over high real estate prices, Google buses and wealth inequality in general. The Bureau of Labor Statistics says there are about 50,000 software developers in Silicon Valley with an average annual wage of $130,000 or so. There are also about 55,000 dishwashers, manicurists, fast-food workers, wait staff, parking lot attendants and many others making somewhere between $19,000 and $23,000 a year.

  • Emily Moses

    These figures are based on working a solid 40-hour workweek. I can assure you very few of these people are just working 40 hours a week. If the study did take into account that doctors in most specialties are working 50-70 hours a week, and as are tech fields and even employees in admin. positions, the average hourly rate would be significantly lower…

  • dreamlogicc

    I’d be interested to know how these higher wages translate to living standards, though – There might be some high wages, but there’s also a very high cost of living in the bay area…

    • Viola Surveh

      Thomas Malthus explains that.

      • dreamlogicc

        oh yeah? what does ole Thommy boy say are the most affordable-per-dollar cities in 2014 (considering the incomes of those cities?)

        • richensf

          Viola was inviting you to look into the Malthusian theory of population, but apparently you have more interest in asking lazy questions than looking for their widely accessible answers.

          • dreamlogicc

            good one

          • richensf

            You want a simple answer? The wages for jobs in this region are higher than the same jobs in other regions because of the cost of living here is higher and the wages for good jobs always account for regional cost of living adjustments. Why does it cost more to live here? The biggest reason is the shortage in housing supply, which is caused by many related but distinct contributing factors including NIMBYism and poor housing and development policies that lead to an imbalance between new jobs created and new housing units created. Low supply and high demand means ever-increasing cost of housing. Thank the NIMBYs, their ill-conceived ballot initiatives, and the short-sighted politicians they vote into office!

          • Sigmarlin

            Or…instead of blaming NIMBYs, you could blame politicians that lure companies with tax incentives to move here when there is not enough housing. There are ways to curb population growth and rising housing costs, such as limiting the amount of commercial space, however neoliberal cities squeeze every bit of revenue they can out of corporations and worrying about the consequences on residents never. If we lost twitter, et al, we’d lose some tax base (we already gave away payroll tax) but it might be a more enjoyable city for those of us who don’t have millions to compete for housing.

            One day these companies will wise up and move to the midwest anyway so they can pay smaller salaries. And we can all breathe a sigh of relief as SF no longer is the “IT” town. (See Chester Hartman for further reading on neoliberalism and commercial rents.)

    • David Corby

      It translates into a whole lot of Ferrari and other high end sports cars on the road with people living in 1200 sq foot or smaller houses. Expect to pay about $1 million if you want to buy a house. Rents are on par with mortgages and run about $4000-$5000 a month. Gasoline is about $4.50 a gallon. Parking downtown ranges from $10-$40 per day. Food prices are about what you would pay elsewhere in the United States.

      Keep in mind that not everybody that lives here makes anything close to $100,000 so we get couches in living rooms rented out for $900 a month. If you become unemployed then you might as well move immediately.

      We do get amazing weather year round with maybe one to two weeks of weather above 80F and another one to two weeks with weather below 65F. There are Redwood forests outside the city and the Bay Area has an amazing coastline.

  • David Corby

    Instead of tech worker you should be using is software engineer or software developer. If tech worker includes people like desktop support or systems administrators I can guarantee you that they make on the very low end of the scale. My partner is a nurse and she makes a whole lot more than I do.

    If you really want to talk about wealth inequality in San Francisco then take a look at what is happening with the accreditation of City College of San Francisco. There are about to be 80,000 people shut out of higher education. The problems in San Francisco are only going to get worse.

  • dontbeevil

    4% of the population, but 47% of home buyers. If someone wanted to study the rental numbers I suspect the % of those currently seeking rental housing who work in tech is even greater. The industries that have been here awhile are not as damaging to the housing market because a greater number of those people were already local, therefore are not having as great an impact on prices or competition for housing.

    http://www.paragon-re.com/Home_Buyer_Seller_Dynamics_in_San_Francisco

    47% of SF home buyers in the past year
    are employed in high tech. This is a distinctly
    San Francisco phenomenon related to the first 2 points above: An influx
    of relatively young, often newly affluent, high-tech employed, often
    first-time buyers – who can afford SF home prices – is playing a
    decisive role in the market.

  • dontbeevil

    And I do not say that to demonize anyone or to say that tech workers are bad people. But if we are going to talk about social contracts, responsibility and solutions we can’t be wasting all this time “defending” people from the realities of what was never personal to begin with. Facts are facts and market factors are market factors.

Author

Dan Brekke

Dan Brekke (Twitter: @danbrekke) has worked in media ever since Nixon's first term, when newspapers were still using hot type. He had moved on to online news by the time Bill Clinton met Monica Lewinsky. He's been at KQED since 2007, is an enthusiastic practitioner of radio and online journalism and will talk to you about absolutely anything. Reach Dan Brekke at dbrekke@kqed.org.

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