The Tech World Needs to Get Serious About the Wage Gap

In a recent column, I wrote about the spate of unfortunate headlines coming out of Silicon Valley, from social networks accepting Russian ad dollars to corporate tax issues.

But I see the growing wage gap as one of the biggest problems for the region, as well as tech hubs like Seattle, San Jose, and Austin. It's especially pronounced in the Midwest, the Rust Belt, and the south, where many people feel left behind by the rise of automation, jobs moving offshore, and a shift in markets. It's no wonder so many look at the excesses of Silicon Valley in a negative light these days.

The chart below from the Economic Innovation Group Communities Index, which shows just how distressed many communities are in the US, should be very troubling to tech leaders and government officials.

With the exception of a few years abroad and in Southern Illinois, I have lived in San Jose and worked in the tech industry all of my life. But I have been aware of the wage discrepancy issue for a long time; I heard rumblings of a Silicon Valley backlash at least five years ago during my travels. Now, in the wake of the 2016 election and the Russian influence controversy, we're even hearing calls for tech companies to be regulated or broken up.

At the heart of this is an age-old question about sharing the wealth, which is often at odds in a capitalist society. As a child, I was pushed to excel and do my best and told that what I earned was mine. For most workers, that is still their mantra. However, when they see bankers, tech leaders, and some politicians making billions or millions of dollars, sometimes at their expense, it's hard not to question the system.

I will let others debate capitalism vs. socialism vs. communism. But the tech world does need to become more sensitive to the fact that our earning potential has grown while many in the US have seen their wages stagnating and have little hope of getting a better, higher-paid gig. We're on the fast track to greater wage disparity, and at some point, those who are struggling will rebel—at the ballot box or in the streets.

The tech world needs to take this seriously. I don't have specific answers, but I do think Silicon Valley needs to use its innovative spirit to help their fellow citizen as much as their bottom line.

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