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The Silicon Valley’s High Living Cost Is Driving out Workers

California’s Bay Area is increasingly difficult to afford on an average STEM salary, which is forcing workers to commute or move. Companies are taking note and building offices in Texas and Pennsylvania to accommodate.

(TNS) — Despite being home to some of the biggest, most well-known technology companies in the world, the Bay Area is somehow worse for tech workers than Seatle, Austin and… Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania?

A new report from personal finance website WalletHub found that the San Francisco metropolitan area, which includes Oakland, Walnut Creek and Redwood City, is the sixth-best metro for workers in STEM — science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

And the San Jose metro, which includes Santa Clara and San Benito counties, is ranked 19th behind Madison, Wi., Cincinnati, Ohio and Hartford, Conn.

That’s despite the fact San Jose and San Francisco have the first and fifth highest share of their workforce in STEM jobs, respectively, and some of the highest wages in the nation.

Why the low ranking, then?

“The main things dragging San Francisco’s ranking down are its affordability, and consequently the fact that the median wage for STEM workers is the second lowest when adjusted for cost of living,” Jill Gonzalez, an analysis with WalletHub, said in an email.

Adjusted for the Bay Area’s high cost of living, STEM workers in the San Francisco metro make $58,100 a year, better only than pricey Honolulu, Hawai’i among the 100 biggest metros in the country. In San Jose they make a cost-adjusted wage of about $65,200, the 88th worst.

San Jose’s ranking was also hurt by a lack of affordable housing, a disparity between the number of men and women in STEM — the Man Jose nickname had to come from somewhere — and median wages that have actually been decreasing since 2015, Gonzalez said.

David Callisch, vice-president of marketing at the network analytics firm Nyansa, said his Palo Alto-based company of about 70 workers has a team in Austin, in part because it’s cheaper.

“You have to ask yourself the question, which people need to be physically close to each other?” Callisch said. “Typically it’s engineers, at least in Silicon Valley, because they have to collaborate.”

Some companies — and workers — have looked at expanding remote work as a way to let employees live in lower-cost cities. They also do things like bus workers in and out of their campuses in the valley to cut down on the cost and pain of living in the region.

While fewer companies and workers are talking about moving to California, Callisch said he doesn’t anticipate a mass exodus from the valley.

“I despise the traffic, the property prices, sometimes it’s just unbearable,” he said. “But once you’ve established roots, it’s just not easy to pick up and go.”

Tech companies can still afford to pay higher wages to offset the cost of living, he said, while workers wait for the massive payout that can come with going public or getting bought out by a larger company. His own firm announced this week that it was bought by VMware.

This isn’t the first time Pittsburgh has tried to steal Silicon Valley’s tech thunder. A 2018 marketing campaign from the language app Duolingo made an enticing pitch for workers thinking about moving to Steel City.

“Own a home. Work in tech,” a billboard in San Francisco beckoned. “Move to Pittsburgh.”

©2020 the San Jose Mercury News (San Jose, Calif.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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