'I earn R2 million – but I can't afford to make ends meet'

By Nadim Nyker
01 March 2017

The salaries are high in Silicon Valley – but so is the cost of living there.

A Twitter employee earning a base salary of $160 000 (R2 million) once had to borrow money to make ends meet and is struggling to get by in Silicon Valley.

A number of tech workers on six-figure salaries can't afford to pay for basics such as rent and childcare, with one Apple employee living out of a garage and using a compost bucket as a toilet, according to The Guardian.

The employees asked to remain anonymous, fearing the backlash they could face from their companies after speaking out.

The Twitter software engineer says he earns "a pretty bad income" for those who live in the southern portion of the San Francisco Bay Area, which is nicknamed Silicon Valley.

His house is also too cramped for his liking but he says he can't compete with groups of 20-somethings happy to share accommodation and pay up to $2 000 (R26 000) a room.

“Families are priced out of the market,” he said, adding that families have begun to be excluded commercially as well, with cafés and restaurants being replaced by "hip coffee shops".

The Silicon Valley rental market is said to be the highest in the world, according to nested's 2017 Rental Affordability Index .

But the area's techies are part of the highest one percent of earners in the US, so should they be whining?

The Guardian reports that 12 engineers have been living in a two-bedroom flat rented through Airbnb for which they pay $1 100 (R14 300) each a month for "a bunk bed and five people in the same room. One guy was living in a closet, paying $1 400 (R18 200) for a ‘private room’ ”.

Disappointment with six-figure salaries seems to be the general feeling in Silicon Valley, with Facebook engineers raising the issue with founder Mark Zuckerberg last year, asking whether the company could subsidise their rent to make it more affordable.

The extreme living expenses have caused engineers to take up jobs elsewhere for up to 50 percent less, such as one tech worker who earned $700 000 (R9,1 million) getting another job in San Diego.

So what does this mean for people who are part of the lower income 99 percent who work in the affluent tech hub?

They just can't afford to live in the Bay area, with secretaries, firefighters and teachers having to commute daily.

Homelessness in San Francisco is also rife.

Six-figure earner Michelle (28) told The Guardian she's "caught in a really uncomfortable position. You feel very guilty seeing such poverty and helplessness.

“But what are you supposed to do? Not make a lot of money? Not advocate for yourself and then not afford to live here?”

Sources: The Guardian, EFC, nested.com, Tech.Mic

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