Blacks and Latinos Aren't Thriving in Silicon Valley's Meritocracy

The data from this Silicon Valley jobs report show that Silicon Valley's so-called meritocracy happens to benefit white and Asian people, while the black and Latino community suffers.

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The data from this Silicon Valley jobs report show that Silicon Valley's so-called meritocracy happens to benefit white and Asian people, while the black and Latino community suffers. The annual Silicon Valley Index had a lot of good news for the vitality of the South Bay's economy, with per capita income increasing 2.2 percent total and the tech hub adding 42,000 jobs last year. But those gains were not seen evenly across the community: whites and Asians saw per capita income increase while incomes actually fell for African American — and faster in Silicon Valley than in other parts of California or the rest of the country. Look at that huge 18 percent drop in per capita income for African Americans in Silicon Valley. It's three times the decline for the state of California and more than four times the decline seen in the U.S. The numbers for Silicon Valley, in fact, represent a growing gap: Income for the black and Latino community has declined, as the rest of Silicon Valley has gotten richer. As the president of Joint Venture Silicon Valley, which compiled the report, puts it: "Silicon Valley is two valleys," Russell Hancock told the Mercury News. "There is a valley of haves, and a valley of have-nots." This place that some call "post-race" happens to reward white and Asian workers more than other races.

The Index is full of data points that show how uneven the growth falls in the area. Some highlights, emphasis mine:

  • The educational level of residents in Silicon Valley was higher than in California overall across all ethnic groups in 2011. These rates increased across all ethnic groups except African Americans and Hispanics.
  • The majority of ethnicities and races saw improved per capita income in 2011, except for African Americans and Hispanics whose per capita income fell 18 percent and five percent, respectively.
  • Educational attainment across all ethnic and racial groups is notably higher in Silicon Valley than the state. Since 2006, gains have been made across a majority of ethnicities in the region. In 2011, the share of Asian adults with at least a bachelor’s degree rose to 59 percent, compared to 49 percent statewide. However, the proportion of Hispanic and African American adults with higher education levels slipped, to 23 percent and 14 percent respectively. Statewide, California has made steady improvements across allethnic and racial groups since 2006.
  • With respect to college eligibility, the share of students meeting UC/CSU requirements varied greatlyby ethnicity, with a nearly 50 percentage point difference betweenthe highest rates (Asians) and lowest rates (African Americans and Hispanics). African Americans had one of the greatest increasesin graduation rates (+3 percent) from 2009-11, but experienced the largest drop (-4 percent) in the share of graduates meeting UC/CSUrequirements.

Those are not the numbers that you would expect to see, if, as tech journalist and investor Jason Calacanis wrote earlier this week, "The fact is that the tech industry and tech media should be extremely proud of what we’ve accomplished. We’re the most open meritocracy I’ve ever seen in industry." This study is not looking at the tech industry Silicon Valley, just the region to which it is home. You would expect, if that industry was welcoming to all comer, that the jobs and income it generated would be shared more evenly in the community. In fact, the numbers are worse than the rest of the country. As blogger Jamelle Bouie suggested in his blog post, overt racism may not be the cause. But it certainly merits consideration of whether the wider systemic issues that push certain classes and races away from lucrative fields also applies inside Silicon Valley's meritocracy bubble.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.