실리콘밸리는 지난 수십년 동안 경제 성장의 원동력이었지만, 그 혜택이 근로자들에게 제대로 돌아가지 않았다는 분석이 나왔다.
캘리포니아대학 산타크루즈 캠퍼스의 최근 보고서에서 실리콘밸리 근로자의 90%가 인플레이션을 감안했을 때 1997년보다 더 낮은 임금을 받고 있다고 CNBC가 5일(현지시간) 보도했다. 중산층 근로자들의 타격이 가장 큰데, 인플레이션을 감안한 이들의 수입은 14%나 감소했다고 한다.
보고서에 따르면 미국의 경제 성장과 전체 임금의 상승에도 불구하고 실질적인 임금은 침체 상태에 있다고 한다. 2001년에서 2017년 사이 인플레이션을 고려한 1인당 경제 총생산량은 74% 증가했고, 전체 임금도 상승했다. 미국 노동부에 따르면 지난 분기 임금은 3.1% 상승으로 10년간 최고 상승률에 달한다는 것이다.
그럼에도 실리콘밸리의 임금이 침체되고 격차가 발생한 이유에 대해, 노동자 지원 단체인 워킹파트너십 USA(Working Partnerships USA)와 함께 이 연구를 이끈 캘리포니아 대학의 사회 변혁 연구소 대표 크리스 배너 박사는 여러 요인들이 함께 영향을 일으켰기 때문인 것으로 보고 있다. 이 요인 중에는 승자 위주의 소위 정보 경제도 포함돼 있다. 이런 경제 환경 하에서 거대 테크 기업들이 생겨나고, 여기에 다른 이들을 위한 자리는 없으며, 아웃소싱 고용이 늘어났다고 한다.
서비스업 근로자 국제연맹(Service Employees International Union)의 캘리포니아 지역 홍보 담당 스티븐 보드맨은 "실리콘밸리 사정이 좋지 않다. 대부분의 근로자들의 임금이 주거비를 감당하면서 그 지역에서 살아가기에 부족하다. 실리콘밸리의 많은 서비스직 근로자들이 워킹홈리스, 즉 풀타임으로 일을 하지만 거주할 집이 없는 상태로 있다"고 말했다.
베너 박사는 "흔히 하이테크 산업의 근로자들은 고임금을 받는 고급 기술자들로 생각한다. 그러나 그런 기업의 근로자들도 수입 감소를 겪고 있다"고 말했다. 그는 실리콘밸리가 세계 다른 어느 곳보다 이러한 현상이 더 극단적이며, 더 뚜렷하다고 말했다.
1997년부터 2017년까지 지난 20년 동안 최상위 10%의 계층만 임금이 증가했다. 중위 임금 근로자들의 수입은 같은 기간 약 13~14% 감소했다.
경제학자들은 미국의 혁신 허브의 중심인 실리콘밸리에서 임금 불균형이 심화되고 있는 것에 주목하고 있다. 이것으로 전체 고용 시장의 전개 양상을 예측할 수 있기 때문이다.
1990년대에는 실리콘밸리 근로자들의 22.5%가 하이테크 산업에 종사했으며, 하이테크 기업들이 고용한 저임금의 서비스직 종사자들은 4.6%였다. 2016년까지 실리콘밸리의 하이테크 근로자들의 고용률은 25.3% 증가했으나, 저임금 근로자들의 고용률은 2퍼센트 떨어졌다. 이 고용률 감소가 정원사나 구내식당 근무자들의 수요가 갑자기 감소했기 때문이 아니다. 이러한 직종들이 아웃소싱되었기 때문이다.
이러한 하청 근로자들은 복리후생을 지원할 필요가 없기 때문에 기업의 비용 발생이 줄어든다. 하청 근로자들이 많이 생겨나는 것은 소득 불균형 확산의 또 다른 신호이다. 최하위 계층 근로자들은 풀타임 근무를 하지만, 풀타임 고용의 혜택을 못 받고 있다.
베너 박사는 1980년대에는 경비직 종사자들도 IBM 같은 기업에 직접 고용되고 회사로부터 주식을 받아 부유해질 수 있었다고 말했다.
오늘날의 거대 테크 기업들은 이러한 서비스 직종뿐 아니라 소프트웨어 개발 같은 고숙련 기술직과 비서직, 인사 전문가, 영업직도 근로자들을 직접 고용하기보다 점점 더 아웃소싱하고 있는 추세이다.
서비스업 근로자 국제 연맹의 보드맨은 "임금 격차의 증가에 대한 반격이 있을 것이다. 최근 몇 년 간, 실리콘밸리의 수천 명의 서비스직 종사자들이 노조를 결성했다. 이들은 경비, 셔틀버스 기사, 구내식당 종업원 등이다. 이들은 생계 유지도 힘든 임금에 이력을 느끼고, 상황 개선을 위해서는 단체교섭이 최선이라고 결론내렸다"고 말했다.
지난 해 500명이 넘는 페이스북 구내식당 근로자들이 노조를 조직하기로 했고, 비슷한 시기에 테슬라 공장의 근로자들은 산재를 줄이기 위한 장비 개선 등 요구 조건들을 제시했다고 한다.
일부 기업들은 하청 근로자들에게 혜택을 제공해서 문제를 개선하려고 하고 있다고 한다. 올해 초 설문조사 기업 서베이몽키(SurveyMonkey)는 본사의 파견 근로자들에게 건강보험과 유급휴가의 혜택을 제공하기 시작했다고 전해진다.
The shocking truth: In Silicon Valley wages are down for everyone but the top 10%
Silicon Valley has been an engine for economic growth in the last few decades, but that wealth is not being shared with most of the workers in the industry. Nine in 10 workers in Silicon Valley make less now than they did in 1997 after adjusting for inflation, according to a new report from the University of California in Santa Cruz.
Middle-class workers are being hit the hardest, with their earnings down by 14 percent after inflation. For those at the lowest rung of the income ladder, incomes have gone down less, dropping just 1 percent. This may be because minimum-wage hikes are having some impact, suggests Chris Benner, Ph.D., director and chair of the Institute for Social Transformation at the University of California, Santa Cruz, who published the study, along with worker advocacy group Working Partnerships USA.
The report showed that wages are stagnant despite economic growth and overall wage growth. Overall per capital economic output increased by 74 percent between 2001 and 2017 in inflation-adjusted terms. Overall wages increased, too. Wages rose 3.1 percent in the last quarter, the highest increase in a decade, according to the Labor Department.
What is driving this shocking trend of stagnant wages and widening income disparity in Silicon Valley? Brenner says a confluence of factors, including the "winner take all" dynamics of the information economy, which creates huge tech companies and doesn't leave room for many others, and the outsourcing of more job roles.
Only wages at the very highest levels increased, after adjusting for inflation, over the last 20 years. Between 1997 and 2017, hourly wages for the top 10 percent increased by 0.7 percent. The most significant decline was for those at the middle income level. Those in the 50th percentile have seen wages decline by 14.2 percent over the same 20-year period, while those in the 60th percentile have seen a 13.2 percent decline.
"The problem is as bad as it gets in Silicon Valley. Wages for most working people don't even come close to what is needed to pay for housing and to survive in the area. Many service workers are part of the working homeless, which are people that work full time and are still homeless," said Stephen Boardman, communications director, Service Employees International Union of United Service Workers West, which represents more than 45,000 service workers in California, including janitors, security officers and airport service workers.
Economists are paying close attention to deepening wage inequality in the heart of America's innovation hub that may indicate what lies ahead for the job market.
"We tend to think about employees in the high-tech industry as being highly paid, highly skilled employees, and they are, but even employees in those firms are seeing declining returns," said Benner.
Silicon Valley is now has one of the largest wage disparities in the country. In 1980 the ratio of households at the 95th percentile to the 20th percentile was 5.29. By 2015 this ratio nearly doubled, to 10.03, making it the 15th most unequal regions. Though extreme, the trend in Silicon Valley highlights a disturbing national (and international) trend toward widening income disparity, according to the report.
"There are implications for the rest of the country and probably the rest of the world. Some of these trends are more extreme in Silicon Valley than elsewhere. We're not a mirror of where the rest of the world is going, but it makes these trends and dynamics more visible in Silicon Valley than elsewhere," Benner said.
In 1990, 22.5 percent of all workers in Silicon Valley were in high tech, whereas 4.6 percent of people working in low-wage service occupations were employed by high-tech companies. By 2016 employment in high tech increased 25.3 percent of all workers in the valley, but low-wage workers employed by high-tech companies dropped to 2 percent. The decline doesn't mean there was suddenly less demand for landscapers or cafeteria workers. Instead, those jobs were just being outsourced.
Contractors can help keep costs low because contract workers don't get the same benefits, such as health care or 401(k) matching. On a larger level, the trend toward more contract workers can be seen as another sign of widening inequality as it creates an underclass of workers who are, by all appearances, working full-time but don't get any of the benefits of full-time employment.
More than a third of the workforce, or 57.3 million Americans, are now freelancing, according to a 2017 report by Upwork. In San Mateo and Santa Clara counties alone, there are an estimated 39,000 workers who are contracted to tech companies, according to one estimate by University of California Santa Cruz researchers.
Increasingly, it's not just low-wage jobs that are being outsourced. In a 2016 study, economists Lawrence Katz and Alan Krueger found that workers with jobs in higher wages are more likely to have their services contracted out than jobs associated with lower wages.
"The old way, companies would source and accumulate talent for decades. That's not how it works anymore," said Brian Hoffmeyer, senior vice president at Beeline, a company that helps companies manage their contingent workforce.
Benner recalled a conversation he had with an investor who visited IBM's headquarters in the 1980s and was warned to be careful about how to talk to the janitors.
"And he said, 'Why? I mean, of course I'll treat them with respect, but why should I be careful?' and he was told 'Because many of them are millionaires,'" Benner said. "It was because they had a lifetime of employment in IBM, and part of the compensation that IBM gave them was shares in the company."
Tech giants today are more likely to contract out sanitation workers, landscapers, security guards and the like. Contract workers often not only don't have benefits such as 401(k) matching or health insurance, they most certainly don't get shares in the companies they work for. That's true not only for lower-paid labor but also for higher-skilled workers, such as software developers, administrative assistants, human resources professionals and sales representatives, who are increasingly hired on a contract basis rather than as employees.
The average pay for software developers and programmers nationally is $102,470, according to the U.S. Labor Department, but in Silicon Valley the pay is much more. Last year the median employee pay at Amazon — a company with a vast army of warehouse workers — was $28,446. At Facebook the median pay was $240,430.
Companies are disclosing median pay for the first time as a result of a new SEC rule adopted earlier this year that's intended to spotlight the high pay of CEOs; however, these ratios aren't as useful when applied to Silicon Valley tech firms, because the CEOs are often founders who own much of the company. So they may not receive much salary but make up for it in equity and other perks.
For example, Facebook disclosed that its CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, made $1 in salary last year but received other compensation totaling $8.85 million — for personal security at his residences, personal travel, as well as personal use of a private plane. That makes Facebook's CEO-to-median-employee-pay a ratio of 37 to 1. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, the world's richest man, had a total compensation of $1.68 million for a ratio of 59 to 1 in 2017.
Silicon Valley is just one example of growing inequality across the country. The Brookings Institution has found some of the highest rates of income inequality in cities and metropolitan areas such as Bridgeport, Connecticut, New York City, Atlanta, Providence Rhode Island, San Francisco and Los Angeles. Factors driving the worsening income inequality include local housing dynamics as well as industrial and income patterns in the labor market.
"I think you are seeing the backlash to increasing wage disparity. In the last few years alone thousands of service workers in Silicon Valley have organized into unions, including security officers, janitors, shuttle-bus drivers and cafeteria workers, to name just a few. They grew tired of being paid less than was needed to survive and decided that collective bargaining was the best way to improve their situations," said Service Employees International Union's Boardman.
Last year more than 500 Facebook cafeteria workers in Silicon Valley voted to unionize. Around the same time, Tesla factory workers in Fremont, California, sent a list of demands that included improving equipment so as to reduce workplace injuries.
Some companies are addressing this by offering improved benefits. Earlier this year, SurveyMonkey started to provide benefits, including health insurance and paid time off, to contract workers at their headquarters.
The global connections and high revenue per employee in Silicon Valley or Wall Street is extreme and obvious, said Benner, but this is also happening in other industries. "That's part of the dynamic and challenge that we face as a country," he said.