Bay Area residents grappling with the high cost of living, growing homelessness and high taxes say the quality of life has sunk in recent years, with a record number looking to leave the region altogether.
The grim appraisal, captured in a survey by Joint Venture Silicon Valley in partnership with Bay Area News Group, shows a stark decline in public perception of the Bay Area since the COVID-19 pandemic began last year. Polling of residents across five counties, including Santa Clara and San Mateo, found 56% of respondents are likely to leave in the next few years, up from 47% in 2020 prior to the pandemic.
The results show residents are frustrated with the perennial problems of Silicon Valley — high housing costs, more people living on the street and consternation over droughts and wildfires — but that COVID-19 may have tipped people over the edge, according to Russell Hancock, Joint Venture's president and CEO.
"When you toss a highly infectious disease into the mix you get a smothering amount of anxiety," Hancock said.
The survey, which was conducted late last month, found that 71% of those who responded felt the quality of life in the Bay Area is worse now than it was five years ago. The opinion was felt strongest among people ages 50 to 64 and those making a household income between $100,000 and $250,000. The perception also changes based on political affiliation, with 92% of those leaning Republican believing that quality of life has declined, compared with 60% of Democrats and 86% of "pure independents."
Top of mind for Bay Area residents is the high cost of housing, which 76% of respondents described as an "extremely serious" problem, followed by general cost of living at 68%, homelessness at 66% and the increasing frequency of wildfires and droughts at 60%.
Among those seeking to leave the Bay Area, the vast majority (84%) cited the high overall cost of living as a major reason, followed by housing costs (77%), quality of life (62%) and the amount of taxes (58%).
Though the survey draws a correlation between the pandemic and rising levels of anxiety and discontent, 66% of those polled said they approved of how their employer responded to the pandemic. And among those working from home, nearly all — 95% — say they want to continue working remotely at least some of the time. Only about one in three respondents (34%) want to continue to work from home all the time and slightly more than a third (36%) want to work from home "most" of the time.
A large number of Silicon Valley employers, including tech giants like Google and Apple, have delayed a full return to the office until this January, leaving many employees to work from home for nearly two years. During the extended hiatus, the survey found 44% of those working remotely have felt their work-life balance has improved. That number sinks to just 20% among those who have had to continue working in person during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The abrupt switch to telecommuting has been a mixed bag. Respondents say they are saving time normally spent sitting in gridlock traffic, and have far more flexibility in taking care of children and other family responsibilities during the day. On the other hand, the report by Joint Venture makes clear that it's taken a psychological toll, and that the majority of those working from home feel more isolated and alone than prior to the pandemic.
"Across income levels and most demographic categories, majorities of residents feel more stressed, say their families are more stressed, feel that it has become harder to stay connected with family and friends, and are more worried and uncertain about the future," according to the report.
Only a sliver of respondents (5%) said they wanted to make a full return to in-person work once the COVID-19 public health and employer restrictions have been lifted.