“The pay could end tomorrow,” says Delgado. “You always have a feeling inside of, ‘What’s going to happen? What’s going to happen?’ There’s always anxiety there. You never stop thinking it.”
Homegrown know-how firms have created large wealth in Silicon Valley; by some estimates, the GDP per capita in San Jose is larger than all however the three richest international locations on the planet. But the cash has additionally introduced challenges. The gulf between wealthy and poor is gigantic, and the price of dwelling has risen so excessive that even tech staff making effectively over six figures really feel the crunch. Everyone else is barely scraping by.
The area’s giant company campuses are supported by a small military of staff, most of whom are usually not instantly employed by the tech firms however by staffing companies. Delgado, for instance, is employed by Bon Appetit, a meals service firm that contracts with Nvidia. While the roles pay greater than California’s minimal wage, they’re nonetheless thought-about low-wage work: At the tech firms, subcontracted staff make 70 p.c lower than equal full-time workers, in accordance with research from UC Santa Cruz. And the worth of that wage doesn’t go as far in Silicon Valley as it would elsewhere: In Santa Clara, the place Delgado lives, the price of housing has risen exponentially since he moved there many years in the past, following his brother from Jalisco. Now, he says, about 70 p.c of his earnings goes towards paying the lease.
In the pandemic, that’s added new anxiousness for the lower-wage staff in Silicon Valley. One month with out pay can very simply spiral into dropping housing, the power to place meals on the desk, the lack of the bottom beneath their ft. “There’s a lot of fear,” says Maria Noel Fernandez, the director of organizing and civic engagement for Working Partnerships USA, a Silicon Valley labor group. “There’s a sentiment that there’s a ticking clock. When will their lives be completely thrown apart?”
Alma Cardenas had been bracing for her life to be thrown aside since March. For six years, Cardenas had labored as a barista at Verizon’s hub in San Jose, the place she made drinks for the campus’s 3,400 workers. When the pandemic started, Verizon closed its places of work. The firm continued to pay its subcontractors, like most of the different tech firms close by, however Cardenas knew the subsequent paycheck was by no means assured. “Not knowing what would happen next month, or even how to manage that worry—it caused a lot of depression for me,” she says.
In September, Cardenas received the information she’d feared. Her supervisor referred to as to ask for her e mail, in order that she might ship Cardenas an official layoff letter. Verizon had ended contracts with 120 of its cafeteria staff. Her final paycheck would come simply a few days later. Her medical health insurance was supposed to finish too, however Cardenas’s union, Local 19, fought to maintain these advantages for a few extra months, till December 2020.
Cardenas lives together with her two daughters, ages 16 and 21, in an RV in San Jose. They don’t have a lot of non-public house, and everybody’s psychological well being has suffered previously yr whereas they’ve been cooped up inside. Cardenas filed for unemployment. Her youthful daughter took a part-time job at a close by McDonald’s to pitch in. It’s nonetheless a wrestle to make ends meet. While Cardenas seems to be for brand new work, she’s doing a little volunteering to assist folks schedule their vaccine appointments. It retains her thoughts off of her fears about what’s subsequent.
Cardenas is aware of her scenario isn’t distinctive. By May of final yr, greater than 20 million Americans had been unemployed. For immigrants and other people with out a faculty diploma, the charges of unemployment had been particularly excessive. The financial system has bounced again considerably since then, however in what some consultants are calling a K-shaped recovery: One half of the US is doing OK or higher financially, whereas the opposite half is falling even additional behind. But Cardenas doesn’t perceive why Verizon, which ended the yr with $31 billion in income and dazzling fourth-quarter money move, couldn’t afford to maintain her on the payroll.