In his wonderful "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" trilogy, the late Douglas Adams delivered insights into the human condition wrapped in science fiction hilarity. One of our favorite conceits, in the third book, is the magic trick of making anything disappear -- even a huge mountain -- by enveloping it in an S.E.P. field.
Somebody Else's Problem.
The poverty in the East Bay and, more to the point, the slipping away of the middle class, is invisible in most neighborhoods of the Oakland hills, Santana Row stores and the tech industry labs and cubicles where creative energy and the power of Ayn Randian individualism reign. The social problems that are accelerating in this century are easy to make invisible when there is enough wealth to shut them out.
Palo Alto several years ago passed an ordinance forbidding people living in cars from parking on neighborhood streets. The homeless who make visitors uneasy in downtown Oakland or Richmond or Concord are not allowed on the private streets of Santana Row. And the wizards of tech enjoy clean workplaces and often free, excellent food at the office without seeing how the people who make those things happen are living; they don't have to drive through their neighborhoods or ride transit with them.
This isn't a guilt trip. It's just a fact.
And here is another thing it is not:
Somebody Else's Problem.
Neighborhoods and workplaces always have been stratified to some degree by income. The difference today is that the middle is falling out. And that, on Labor Day and every day, is society's problem. Everybody's problem.
A campaign by the Rev. Jesse Jackson's Rainbow/PUSH Coalition has wrangled employee breakdowns by gender and race from some top companies, testing whether the perceived white and Asian male workforce is indeed the opposite of diverse. Short answer: Oh, yes.
Then last week, a San Jose-based Working Partnerships USA study reported in this newspaper found that while diversity is not the rule in well-paid tech jobs, Jackson's rainbow of races and ethnicities is well reflected in the men and women who maintain tech's buildings and landscaping, cook meals and provide other services. They make a fifth of what the tech workers make. The ethnic and gender divide parallels the economic divide.
We're not going to pretend we have a solution. But we wish business, labor, academia and civic and political leaders were talking to each other about this. We wish it were happening all over America, but, call us crazy, we always think the Bay Area should be on the cutting edge. Besides, nowhere is the contrast between rich and poor greater.
As a starting point, can we at least remove the S.E.P. field?