“The pay could end tomorrow,” says Delgado. “You still have the feeling inside, ‘What’s going to happen? What’s going to happen?’ There is always anxiety there. You never stop to think so.
Local tech companies have created massive wealth in Silicon Valley; by some estimates, San Jose’s GDP per capita is higher than that of any country except the world’s three richest. But money also posed problems. The gap between rich and poor is huge, and the cost of living has risen so much that even tech workers earning well over six figures are feeling the tightening. Everyone barely tells.
The region’s large corporate campuses are supported by a small army of workers, most of whom are not directly employed by tech companies, but by recruiting firms. Delgado, for example, is employed by Bon Appetit, a food service company that contracts with Nvidia. Although the jobs pay more than the California minimum wage, they are still considered low-wage jobs: In tech companies, contract workers earn 70% less than equivalent full-time employees, according to search by UC Santa Cruz. And the value of that salary doesn’t go as far into Silicon Valley as it could elsewhere: In Santa Clara, where Delgado lives, the cost of housing has increased exponentially since he moved there years ago. decades, following his brother from Jalisco. Now, he says, about 70 percent of his income goes to paying rent.
In the pandemic, this has added new anxiety for low-wage workers in Silicon Valley. A month without pay can very easily lead to the loss of housing, the ability to put food on the table, the loss of the ground under their feet. “There’s a lot of fear,” says Maria Noel Fernandez, director of organization and civic engagement at Working Partnerships USA, a Silicon Valley labor organization. “There is a feeling that there is a clock ticking. When will their life be completely destroyed? “
Alma Cardenas had been preparing for his life to be shattered since March. For six years, Cardenas had worked as a barista at the Verizon hub in San Jose, where she prepared drinks for the 3,400 employees on campus. When the pandemic began, Verizon closed its offices. The company continued to pay its contractors, like many other nearby tech companies, but Cardenas knew the next paycheck was never guaranteed. “Not knowing what was going to happen next month, or even how to handle this worry, it caused me a lot of depression,” she says.
In September, Cardenas learned the news she feared. Her supervisor called to ask for her email, so she could send Cardenas an official layoff letter. Verizon had terminated contracts with 120 of its cafeteria workers. His last paycheck would come a few days later. His health insurance was also due to end, but Cardenas’ union, Local 19, fought to retain those benefits for a few more months, until December 2020.
Cardenas lives with her two daughters, aged 16 and 21, in an RV in San Jose. They don’t have a lot of personal space, and everyone’s sanity has suffered over the past year while they were locked inside. Cardenas filed for unemployment. Her youngest daughter took a part-time job at a nearby McDonald’s to participate. It is always difficult to make ends meet. While Cardenas looks for a new job, she volunteers to help people schedule their immunization appointments. This makes him forget his fears about what will happen next.
Cardenas knows that his situation is not unique. In May of last year, more than 20 millions Americans were unemployed. For immigrants and those without a university degree, unemployment rates were particularly high. The economy has rebounded somewhat since then, but in what some experts call a K-shaped recovery: Half of the United States is doing well or better financially, while the other half is falling even further behind. But Cardenas doesn’t understand why Verizon, which ended the year with $ 31 billion of dazzling fourth quarter income and cash flow, couldn’t afford to keep her on the payroll.