Early Chinese immigrants to San Francisco referred to northern California as “Gold Mountain.” The name, an echo of the 49ers gold rush, expressed the promise of a land of riches. Many of those immigrants were doomed to disappointment, but the land of riches, has, apparently, come to pass. According to CNN Money, San Francisco is the third richest community in the nation, with a median income of $65,497. San Jose is second, with a median income of 73,804. (And, in case you’re wondering, Plano, Texas, is first at $77,038.)
It’s hard to be sure what this means. A median is the mid-point where half of the sample falls below, and half of the sample is greater. To pull the median up and rank among the top in the country for median income you would need a lot of people at the high end. But a high median can disguise the fact that there remain many people at the low end.
According to an article in the Chronicle, Hunters View, a 265-unit housing complex in Hunters Point, received one of the worst public housing scores from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development of any housing in the nation. The inspection “found shattered glass on the ground, missing sewer and drain covers, roaches in apartments, malfunctioning appliances, and mold and mildew. Perhaps most remarkably, the inspection found 64 percent of the units had missing or inoperable smoke detectors. Hunters View was the site of the 1997 fire that killed a grandmother and five children – due, a judge ruled, to the San Francisco Housing Authority not having installed a smoke detector.”
The cost of living is high in San Francisco. It’s a difficult place for people with low incomes. I believe the city has lost some vitality because it is so difficult for adventurous young people to survive here. Today, Portland or Seattle seem in many respects more like the San Francisco of the mid twentieth century than our present San Francisco does.
Image: Zasu Pitts in Erich von Stoheim’s Greed (1924), based on the novel, set in San Francisco, by Frank Norris.