“The pay may finish tomorrow,” says Delgado. “You all the time have a sense within, ‘What’s going to occur? What’s going to occur?’ There’s all the time nervousness there. You by no means cease pondering it.”
Homegrown expertise firms have created huge wealth in Silicon Valley; by some estimates, the GDP per capita in San Jose is bigger than all however the three richest international locations on the earth. However the cash has additionally introduced challenges. The gulf between wealthy and poor is big, and the price of dwelling has risen so excessive that even tech staff making nicely over six figures really feel the crunch. Everybody else is barely scraping by.
The area’s giant company campuses are supported by a small military of staff, most of whom will not be immediately employed by the tech firms however by staffing corporations. Delgado, for instance, is employed by Bon Appetit, a meals service firm that contracts with Nvidia. Whereas the roles pay greater than California’s minimal wage, they’re nonetheless thought of low-wage work: On the tech firms, subcontracted staff make 70 p.c lower than equal full-time staff, in response to analysis from UC Santa Cruz. And the worth of that wage doesn’t go as far in Silicon Valley as it’d 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.
Within the pandemic, that’s added new nervousness for the lower-wage staff in Silicon Valley. One month with out pay can very simply spiral into shedding housing, the power to place meals on the desk, the lack of the bottom beneath their toes. “There’s lots of worry,” 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 fully thrown aside?”
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 staff. When the pandemic started, Verizon closed its workplaces. The corporate 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 realizing what would occur subsequent month, and even how you can handle that fear—it prompted lots of melancholy for me,” she says.
In September, Cardenas bought the information she’d feared. Her supervisor referred to as to ask for her e-mail, in order that she may ship Cardenas an official layoff letter. Verizon had ended contracts with 120 of its cafeteria staff. Her final paycheck would come just some days later. Her medical health insurance was supposed to finish too, however Cardenas’s union, Native 19, fought to maintain these advantages for a couple of extra months, till December 2020.
Cardenas lives along with her two daughters, ages 16 and 21, in an RV in San Jose. They don’t have lots of private area, and everybody’s psychological well being has suffered up to now 12 months 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. Whereas Cardenas seems to be for brand spanking new work, she’s performing some 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 state of affairs isn’t distinctive. By Could of final 12 months, greater than 20 million People have been unemployed. For immigrants and other people and not using a faculty diploma, the charges of unemployment have been particularly excessive. The financial system has bounced again considerably since then, however in what some specialists are calling a Ok-shaped restoration: One half of the US is doing OK or higher financially, whereas the opposite half is falling even additional behind. However Cardenas doesn’t perceive why Verizon, which ended the 12 months with $31 billion in income and dazzling fourth-quarter money move, couldn’t afford to maintain her on the payroll.