Documentary Explores San Francisco's Income Disparity, America's Growing Problem

In her new film, Alexandra Pelosi channels the spirit of San Francisco to peek at the city's less charming future.

(Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Sep 16, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Shaya Tayefe Mohajer is TakePart's News Editor.

From sky-high rents to a loss of the homespun character San Francisco is known for, the complaints of longtime residents have been growing in recent years, as the very foundations of the city seem to be shifting under the weight of a tech boom that has brought billions of dollars to the Bay Area.

As the daughter of career politician Nancy Pelosi, documentarian and San Francisco native Alexandra Pelosi is arguably a product of the city's old money faction—but her new HBO documentary doesn't mince words about the ills of the new money in her hometown. Pelosi explores local income disparity in SF 2.0, slated to premiere on Sept. 28.

Pelosi takes aim at the tech bros—the young dudes (yes, they're mostly dudes—the industry struggles to diversify) who have turned Google, Apple, Twitter, and other companies into household names. The tech savvy of San Francisco have made their millions—sometimes billions—and are making their mark on the city once known for hippies and free love.

As Pelosi shows us, flashy sports cars and perk-filled van pools destined for Silicon Valley travel the corridors of the seven-square-mile city. Meanwhile, thanks to skyrocketing real estate, mom-and-pop taquerias can no longer afford the rent, and middle-class families are being pushed out of neighborhoods like the Mission District.

While the tech boom may have a specific locale, San Francisco is similar to many major cities in the U.S., where inequality often exceeds the national average, according to the Brookings Institution, a Washington, D.C.–based think tank.

Despite its wealthy tech bros, San Francisco isn't the city with the worst income inequality in the country—nor does it land anywhere on the Economic Policy Institute's list of the top 10 cities with the biggest disparities.

Even major metro areas, such as Miami and New York, that rank in the top 10 trail the suburbs of Connecticut around Bridgeport, where the average income reaches $135,000. Sure, the minimum wage in Connecticut still hovers around $9, while San Franciscans earn a minimum of $12.25 an hour, and that's slated to go up to $15 by 2018. But that slight difference at the bottom of the employment scale can't entirely explain the difference in income disparity when comparing San Francisco and Bridgeport.

The inherently ephemeral nature of ever-evolving cities can leave urban dwellers grasping for the recent past, even when times are tough and there isn't an influx of new money. In any case, numerical comparisons can fall short of the gentle, folksy reputation Pelosi and other longtime residents are fighting to preserve.

Let's face it: It's unlikely that people wear flowers in their hair for a trip to Connecticut.

Here's a preview of Pelosi's new documentary.