It may never have been an easy place to live, but unease and uncertainty has now set in in the Bay Area.
The infuriating, deadly and ever-expanding COVID-19 pandemic has placed another stifling layer of stress on an already stressed region – fundamentally changing how we feel about home and work, our community and our safety, and long-term prospects for life in the Bay Area, according to an exclusive new survey from the Bay Area News Group and the Silicon Valley Joint Venture.
The pandemic has clouded our psyche and sense of security even as most residents report greater financial stability and care little about meeting daily food and shelter needs.
A striking 60% of Bay Area residents surveyed said they had felt more stressed since the start of the pandemic and about 1 in 3 people said their mental health had deteriorated over the past five years. last years.
In a disturbing breakthrough, for the first time since the poll began asking the question in 2018, a solid majority – 56% – said they plan to leave the Bay Area in the next few years despite a strong economy. , glorious weather and natural beauty. , and a beehive of cultural delights. A similar majority said the region was heading in the wrong direction.
For many, relief seems far away.
“I’m always stressed out,” said Tyilisha Oliver, 41, a single mother to Hayward. She was fired from Nordstrom at the start of the pandemic and bounced between apartments as she faced high rents in the Bay Area and poor public transportation.
For over a year, Oliver curled up at home because she worried about her own chronic health issues. “I feel like if I get COVID,” Oliver said, “I could die.”
In the survey of 1,610 registered voters in Santa Clara, San Mateo, San Francisco, Alameda and Contra Costa counties, 71% said the quality of life in the Bay Area has declined over the past five years. years – a fairly consistent level of discontent expressed by residents since 2019. But this year, half feel more isolated and lonely than before the pandemic, and two-thirds are more worried about the future.
Anguish over the issues facing the Bay Area has also increased as the region grapples with the impacts of climate change and a nation torn apart by political polarization. Consider these differences from a similar survey conducted in January 2020 with the Silicon Valley Leadership Group:
- Serious concerns about forest fires increased from 70% to 85% between 2020 and 2021;
- Fears have risen sharply about droughts (from 43% in 2020 to 84% this year) and insufficient water supply (from 48% to 80%);
- Concerns have grown over the division and mistrust between political parties, with 76% calling it a serious problem compared to 58% last year;
- Meanwhile, around 9 in 10 people said the cost of housing and rising homelessness was very or extremely serious, keeping their place among the top concerns in the region.
Russell Hancock, CEO of Joint Venture Silicon Valley, said the pandemic appears to have shifted priorities for many people in the Bay Area, with more emphasis on personal well-being, family and balance work-life perhaps prompting more people to consider leaving.
Almost two-thirds of those who have to be there to work want to leave. Overall, 6 in 10 people in the workforce plan to relocate, including 46% of tech workers. A solid majority of Bay Area employees who work from home at least part of the time are considering a getaway.
“We know that we are a very high cost region. We know drought and wildfires are approaching us, ”Hancock said. “But I really think it’s the accommodation. … People think a down payment is out of reach.
Concerns about fires and drought are high statewide, said Alex Chen, survey data analyst for Embold Research, which conducted the survey. Almost universal anxiety over high housing costs and homelessness, Chen said, “means something is pretty bad.”
Most think the Bay Area is a great place to start a career, but only an average place to raise a family and a poor place to retire.
Aslan Nguyen, 22, graduated from UC Irvine and recently landed a software engineer job at a financial services company in Palo Alto. Nguyen, the oldest of three children, grew up in Daly City. He returned home during the pandemic, where he struggled with family health emergencies, tight finances and college education.
Earlier this year, he took care of his parents and two younger sisters when they caught the virus and were bedridden. He considered giving up.
Although he landed a six-figure tech salary out of college, he’s more worried and uncertain about the future. Many of his college friends working in tech are already feeling exhausted. “The career prospects here are great,” Nguyen said, “although I still think I might end up being evaluated.”
Attitudes towards work have also changed through the relentless health crisis and the extension of remote work for many professionals.
While many say returning to the office part-time brings benefits, few remote workers want to come back five days a week. An overwhelming 98% of current and former technicians who could work from home said they want to stay away at least part of the time when the crisis subsides. About 7 in 10 want to be away most or all of the time.
More than half of tech workers planning to leave the area said one of the reasons was a desire to work remotely for a Bay Area company.
Ron Fuentes, a tech sales manager, changed jobs at the start of the pandemic and saw his workload and efficiency skyrocket. He has set up a full office in his home in Danville, where he organizes meetings with colleagues in India around the clock. He might consider returning to the office a day or two a week, he said, but found he was much more productive without travel or business trips.
Fuentes, 60, and his wife considered moving to other parts of the state or Texas, but said: “As far as life, friends and opportunities, we haven’t seen the draw “.
Soaring house prices and rents and increasing homelessness remain serious impediments to the region’s quality of life, respondents said.
“We’re too permissive – we allow everything,” said Justin Erfort, program manager for a Silicon Valley tech company. His San Francisco neighborhood has seen exponential growth in street life, drug use, and crime. He woke up one morning to the smell and sight of a trash fire licking the exterior walls of his condominium.
“I can’t do it any longer,” Erfort said. “It’s just too raw.”
Yet some remain content with life in the Bay Area, finding solace in renewed or deeper family bonds. Almost 3 in 4 people said their finances had remained stable or improved during the pandemic.
Mike Mendizabal, a retired city home inspector, and his wife have welcomed their daughter, husband and two children to their home in Milpitas while the young couple waits to move into a new home.
“We are doing fine,” he said. “We really miss our family. He longs for the big holiday gatherings of several dozen friends and family for Christmas, but he hopes to throw a Thanksgiving feast.
Mendizabal, a former school board member, is pleased with the way leaders in the region have handled the pandemic. “I’m very happy with it,” he said. “It’s going in the right direction.”
But the isolation has prompted many to seek help or take on unfamiliar roles. Caryn Bettencourt, 41, said she was still tentatively optimistic about her hometown of San Jose and the area. “I have a love-hate relationship. My family is here, so I have to be here, ”she said.
Bettencourt is the director of after-school child care at the YMCA of Silicon Valley in Mountain View, but has taken over other delivery and concert jobs. She was also the only caregiver for her mother, who was treated for cancer during the pandemic.
Money, she says, is tight.
“I am one bankruptcy COVID emergency,” Bettencourt said. Still, she added, “I really love California. I don’t think I could live anywhere else.
Online survey of 1,610 registered voters in Alameda, Contra Costa, San Francisco, Santa Clara and San Mateo counties was conducted by Embold Research for Joint Venture Silicon Valley and the Bay Area News Group in English, Spanish, Chinese and Vietnamese. The poll, conducted September 22-26, has a modeled margin of error of +/- 2.8 percentage points.