The Corner

Economy & Business

It’s Getting Harder and Harder to Make a Living in Progressive Disneylands

Writing in Vox, a tech worker named Matt Kulka writes how he and his family couldn’t make it in the Bay Area working at Facebook. His low six-figure salary (well above the national median) simply wasn’t enough. He landed his dream job, but even with the nice salary and excellent benefits, the costs were extraordinary:

The big problem for me was that Facebook has made the strategic decision to only open engineering offices in places where it believes it can attract the best talent. Somewhere along the way, Facebook decided this can only mean top-tier markets: Silicon Valley, Seattle, New York City, Boston, London.

All of these areas have tremendous costs of living, especially when it comes to real estate. Unless you’re coming in as a top-level engineer at the company, the company requires you relocate to a city with an engineering office. Facebook pays well in absolute terms, but if you’re a single-income family you have to live pretty frugally, as those rent checks eats into your monthly disposable income. My salary was about on par with what I was making at my last job in Phoenix — just barely breaking into the six figures — but housing costs were significantly different.

To help make ends meet, he and his wife (and young child) welcomed a roommate into their home, and he used stock grants to help make house payments. But soon, the stock grants ran out — and he had to face some hard economic facts:

Finally in 2015, the last of my initial grant vested, and the additional money I was getting from those grants started to dry up. I was faced with the real estate market of 2015 in the Bay Area. I realized I would have to make downgrades in my family’s quality of living in order to just continue onward. There were a few choices on the table: move to a bad part of town where rents are cheaper, move into an apartment, relocate to another city with a Facebook engineering office and an equally expensive housing market, or leave the best job I may ever have and return to Arizona, where my wife and I were happiest living.

We considered each of the options. My kids were still too young to have much of an opinion about the area. The constant feeling of crowding in the Bay Area got to my wife. After bringing up the possibility of moving back, it only took about a month before I had secured another job.

Back in Arizona he landed a good job and seems happy, but he ends by calling for premiere tech companies to consider allowing employees to work outside the expensive cities on the coasts. 

My colleague Kevin Williamson has written extensively about the reality that America’s elite blue cities can be great places to live, but places only a few Americans can afford. They’re often the most expensive cities in the U.S., restrictions on new construction drive up housing prices even higher, and the end result is a world where you can sometimes even find people lamenting that $400,000 per year (!!) isn’t enough to comfortably raise a family.

Interestingly, that tends to leave two kinds of super-blue American urban regions — the progressive Disneylands and the progressive ruins. The Bay Area — packed to the gills with highly-educated young professionals — is a lovely place to live. Detroit, by contrast, is Detroit. So is San Jose what progressivism looks like? Or is it the war zones of Chicago?  

I’d say that regions chock-full of relatively culturally and politically homogenous, high-income, highly-educated, intact families are going to do well regardless of ideology. Harvard kids of Stanford parents are going to do well, and then they often get busy increasing the barriers to entry of the communities the love so much. But culturally and politically, progressivism just keeps failing the poor. When will they seek change?

David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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