Where Wealth May Not Matter: Inclusion in the Bay Area

Start-up Investment (in billions of USD) in the major hubs in the world. Data from CB Insights.

This week, in our latest series of blog posts on the data from the Social Progress Index (SPI) for California (CA) Counties, we are honing in on the Bay Area and the particular areas of social progress on which it struggles.* The region, home to Silicon Valley, has an average household income of over $79,000, well above the state average of $57,000. Additionally, over the past six years more than $140 billion has been invested in Silicon Valley start-ups alone, this is nearly double the amount invested in the next largest hub, Beijing, which only brought in $72 billion over the same period of time. The region performs extraordinarily well on traditional economic indicators, but this economic success has not necessarily translated into social progress. 

The Bay Area Counties (marked by the black oval) Color-coded by SPI: CA Counties Score.

The Bay Area counties do generally perform well on social progress, with all 11 counties ranked in the top half of the index. The lowest performing county in the region is San Benito which ranks 26th in the state with a score of 52.8 points. The region also includes the highest performing county in the state, Marin, which scores 68.91 on the Social Progress Index.

Yet, the four core Bay Area counties—Alameda (Inclusiveness: 29.28, rank 56th), Santa Clara (39.4, 52nd), San Francisco (40.79, 50th), and San Mateo (44.15, 47th)—struggle on the component of Inclusiveness, when compared to their immediate geographic neighbors and economic peers. All four counties have high rates of residential isolation and segregation, which may be a primary driver of the low Inclusiveness scores. 

The core four Bay Area counties are some of the most wealthy in the region, all ranked within the top half of median household incomes, averaging $87,000. Despite tremendous wealth, the fact that these counties still struggle on the component of Inclusiveness shows that economic indicators are incomplete and that social progress must be captured by outcome-based measures of lived experience. Income is not destiny. 

Notably, of the seven outlying counties, only Santa Cruz exhibits a similarly weak performance on Inclusiveness, scoring 44.48 points on the component. Like the core four counties, Santa Cruz struggles with residential segregation. However, Santa Cruz uniquely has a relatively high frequency of hate crimes (4.39/100,000 people, 48th in the state) which may also contribute to its low Inclusiveness score. Despite having the second-lowest median household income in the Bay Area, Santa Cruz ranks 13th in the state. The disparity in rank between income and hate crime rates again suggests that economic indicators are an incomplete measure of societal success.  

Furthermore, San Benito, the lowest performing county on overall social progress in the Bay Area (52.80, 26th), is the highest ranked county in the region on Inclusiveness (63.44, 20th), over-performing compared to its economic peers. However, Inclusiveness is one of only two components that San Benito over-performs on, the other being Environmental Quality. The county either performs as expected or underperforms on the rest of the SPI for CA Counties components. 

The San Benito County SPI: CA Counties Scorecard.

Interestingly, the Bay Area counties are some of the most populous in the state, despite covering a relatively small geographical area. San Benito has the smallest population of all the Bay Area Counties, even though it covers a similar geographical area. With fewer people per square mile, it makes sense that San Benito would have better Environmental Quality than its economic peers. However, population size may not explain the higher score on Inclusiveness. 

Overall, San Benito is the geographically farthest flung county in the Bay Area region and seems to have its own strengths and weaknesses. However, the regions within the Bay Area can learn from each other using data informed insights to target interventions designed to increase the level of social progress across the region. 

By separating economic and social measures, the Social Progress Index for California Counties allows policymakers and government officials to see past the wealth in the Bay Area and target specific social progress issues that the region is struggling with, such as inclusiveness. Many important aspects of progress are not captured by the traditional indicators of growth and wealth in the Bay Area. The Social Progress Imperative is currently working with the government of San Jose in San Mateo County to collect even more granular data that can catalyze informed policy-making for the betterment of local populations. 

This post is part of our series on the SPI for CA Counties. Previous pieces have looked at SPI data in conjunction with the housing crisis, population age, and specific state-level struggles with lived-experience. Stay updated on all things #SocialProgress and learn more about the SPI: CA Counties at: https://www.socialprogress.org/

The Economic Regions of California.

* California regions are difficult to define and definitions vary depending on what is measured and for what purpose. For the SPI: CA Counties, the Social Progress Imperative used the Economic Regions of California, combining the Southern California and Southern Border regions into one grouping for ease of access. This means that in this instance the Bay Area counties are: Sonoma, Napa, Solano, Contra Costa, Santa Clara, San Benito, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Cruz, Alameda, and Marin.

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