Updated at 7:38 p.m. on December 20, 2018
Rosa Leon works as a tamale vendor in San Jose, California. But she has to do so on the sly, selling only at night. She considered obtaining permits, but she was daunted by the process. Now, the urban farm-and-food nonprofit Veggielution is helping her apply for them.
In Bangalore, India, Sukumar N. T. sells gobi Manchurian, a fiery Indian-Chinese dish, from a mobile cart. He’s been on this corner, not far from the Rajajinagar IT Park, for seven years, after moving there from a small city about 100 miles west. Every day, the police ask him for 40 to 50 rupees (less than a U.S. dollar), he told me, even though he’s licensed to vend there. “It’s compulsory,” he shrugged. “I don’t want any trouble in the future.”
Bangalore and the Bay Area have a lot in common. They are the tech centers of the world’s second- and third-most-populous countries, respectively, and they both sometimes feel like they’re bursting at the seams. Some economists argue that when tech companies move to cities with rigid housing markets, the value of real wages goes down as the cost of living jumps.
In the Bay Area, where housing is among the most expensive in the nation, low-income people are being displaced. And in Bangalore—where housing costs have also increased dramatically, and where more and more land is being allocated for tech parks and luxury property development—more than 5,000 residents of a slum near Marathahalli, a suburb that hosts a number of IT companies, have recently been threatened with eviction.
In both places, many street vendors are migrants—Bangalore’s come from other parts of India, while in the Bay Area many hail from Latin America. They and their livelihoods offer a warning about the fate of immigrant service labor in the tech economy: When space is at a premium, the high-profile, high-margin industries tend to take it up, while the low-paid, already precarious jobs that keep them humming are threatened.