Why Money Terrifies Me, It Shouldn’t But It’s The Driving Force In The Bay Area

Money literally scares me. Making it, spending it, splurging it. I struggle getting comfortable with it enough to part from it.

But with living in San Francisco, freelancing, and starting a publication—I should be able to pat myself on the back. I struggle to be real, to be fiscal, and to be indulgent when I can. How did this fear become a driving point in my expressions, my weight, my ability to talk to those who write paychecks? 

I’m incredibly lucky to freelance for companies who see my editorial, artistic, and professional eye. But when it came to writing down dollar signs, that’s when my self-esteem bomb shelled. Everything from “that costs this much? Could we get it cheaper if we booked you multiple times? Could we get a first time client discount?” All the excuses as to why their nickel and dime wouldn’t let me pay for my rent or let me eat a full meal. 

There is no place like San Francisco, until you have to pay for it.

All of that aside, lets talk facts. Here is what you need to know about the “living” wage, poverty wage, and minimum wage in San Francisco. Living Wage for one person is $19.63 and for one person and a child is $38.93, Poverty Wage for one person is $5.00 and for one person and a child is $7.00, Minimum Wage for one person is $11.00 and for one person and a child is $11.00. These numbers are all over the place and you may be wondering? What in the hell is a “poverty wage.” Poverty wages are what employers do pay under the table to families who work illegally in country but also make up our FPL. The Federal Poverty Level (FPL) A measure of income issued every year by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Federal poverty levels are used to determine your eligibility for certain programs and benefits, including savings on Marketplace health insurance, and Medicaid and CHIP coverage.

And recently discovered by the Department Of Housing And Urban Development, about certain parts of the San Francisco Bay Area, some people who bring in a six-figure income can be considered “low-income.”

How can this type of madness happen? How is possible and why has it gotten so bad in the last couple of years? The Independant concludes multiple finds with a study done in 2016, “A critical lack of affordable housing and sky high rent prices have made the San Francisco Bay Area unliveable for many artists, artisans, longtime residents and even tech entrepreneurs,” reports the study, “The median-priced home in San Francisco sells for $1.5m (£1.06m) according to Paragon Real Estate Group. It’s not uncommon for buyers to bid hundreds of thousands above asking and pay in all cash.”

And as a full-time artist, where do I fit into the grand scheme of things? When the intro price to a 150. sq ft room is $980 a month sans utilities and other overarching bills, how can you thrive? In our research, we came upon a fascinating read by SF Gate about the thinning of Bay Area art. The author Michelle Robertson writes, “but when artists leave, and they most certainly are leaving the Bay Area, they do not necessarily announce their departures with such vague, spectacular statements. They often go with a whisper, a quiet slinking away.”

From what we’ve read and even first hand experienced, SF is a transcient city that allows people to grind before laying down. The sentiments were also shared, “an expensive city like San Francisco sometimes seems as if it’s full of transients,” writes the SF Gate’s Michelle Robertson, “young people looking to give the Bay Area a shot before heading to a place where a house can be purchased and roots laid down.”

Is the price of a latte in the Bay Area an actual talking point?

It’s not uncommon to hear the phrase, “like I’d pay $5.50 for a latte—ridiculous” and it’s even more common to hear that a single person works two to three part-time jobs. In the food industries alone, you are most likely making anywhere from $11.00 to $15.00 across all three jobs. The Bureau of Labor Services analyzed the Bay Area workforce over the course of a year and made a consensus of what trends are being seen. “When compared to the nationwide distribution, local employment was more highly concentrated in 9 of the 22 occupational groups, including computer and mathematical; business and financial operations; and management,” the bureau reports. 

The employment for entry level positions is slowly dwindling across major fields including tech, finance, and medical. In some cases, a start-up employee will result in having to take on a coffee or serving job to have any form of spending cash. So what about the price of a latte? Why is that relevant? San Francisco, is a city founded on technological advances. Take, for example, Cafe X—a coffee shop that uses robot learning to create, make, and serve your coffee.

At the cafe location on Market St between 2nd and Sansome, the on-staff technicians are there to help with questions, hand any off-creations of the latte, and fix computer problems from their order-able tablets scattered across the retail location. When speaking to the techs on-hand, they informed us that with a completely robotic system, the cafe could erase the need for actual people and eliminate labor costs. Founder of Cafe X, Henry Hu, noticed that baristas spent a majority of their time moving cups around while making espresso drinks, you know, working. 

So, much like anyone’s natural reaction to impatience, Hu decided to build a fully mechanized coffee shop. And SF’s coffee community is at a split divide with the launch of both SF locations. Those who are deep within the community and support local labor are against the idea of completely turning staff into robotic arms but the other half are in favor, with the rise of business costs soaring to an all time high. The funding of Cafe X underscores a broader trend in the Valley of VCs backing food and beverage startups using robotics to cut costs.

Photography courtesy of Cafe X.Photography courtesy of Cafe X.

Photography courtesy of Cafe X.

Does this mean San Francisco could become completely robotic in the coming years? No. In fact, with San Francisco’s rigorous permitting process—if the city wanted to become fully automatic, that wouldn’t happen for years down the road. Business-wise, it’s incredibly smart to save on the costs that could easily throw your business out of… business. As someone who was laid off in an 11% employee layoff from their full-time job—the road to profitability is a hard one.

How can I contribute myself to a sustainable economy?

As CBS San Francisco Bay Area states, “We’re a victim of own success?” In many ways, yes, we are. The cost of living, labor, and transportation are constantly competing ahead of each other when they haven’t learned to co-exist. 

The battle and competition for a better job outweigh community and growth and with such a high turnover in the workforce, there is no time to mourn. But the city is seeing it’s problem with money and looking to correct it in various ways, one looking to the equal wage gap between men and women. “We want results immediately,” says San Francisco Board of Supervisors member Mark Farrell, who sponsored the Equal Pay Measure, which passed the board unanimously last year and has faced little opposition. “Practically speaking, as more and more women interview for jobs, it should have an immediate impact. When that aggregates to statistical differences—that will take a longer time. But you have to start somewhere.”

// Header photo by Didier Weemaels. Love our personal essays on life? Subscribe below for more every Saturday.

Why Money Terrifies Me, It Shouldn’t But It’s The Driving Force In The Bay Area
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