Despite the Bay Area's relative wealth, incomes keep dropping and poverty is spreading even in the most affluent counties, according to newly released 2010 statistics from a U.S. Census Bureau survey.
The number of Bay Area residents living in poverty reached 11 percent of the population last year, a rate higher than any measurement in the past three decades.
If judged solely on average wealth, some counties weathered the recession better than others.
Median household income kept relatively steady in Silicon Valley and San Francisco during the 18-month recession and its aftermath, but it fell sharply in the East Bay.
As was the case elsewhere in the region, the South Bay's poverty level grew. About 186,000 people -- or 10.5 percent of the population in the heart of Silicon Valley -- found themselves living below the poverty line, compared to 9.1 percent in 2009 and 7.4 percent in 2008.
In Alameda County, the number of poor was more than 200,000, and the poverty rate the region's highest -- 13.5 percent, up from 10.7 percent a year earlier.
Much like the rest of California and the country, troubling economic trends in the Bay Area hit African-Americans, Latinos and the young the hardest. For all the households classified as poor, many more are hovering above the poverty line, struggling to pay the bills in a region where rents are high and jobs increasingly scarce.
With an annual income of about $15,000, Anna Jackson-Hill is not poor -- the poverty threshold for a single person is about $11,000 -- but sometimes she feels that way.
"It's hard when you have to work to live, but the job you're working isn't paying you enough to live," the 23-year-old Oakland resident said. "If you want to live comfortably, have a social life, enjoy an education, you really can't do that on minimum wage."
When sporting and entertainment events come to town, Jackson-Hill works as a security guard at the O.co Coliseum. She has another part-time job at a nonprofit center and studies at San Francisco State. She hopes to become an audiologist, and she is optimistic about her trajectory after working on her savings and cleaning up her credit rating with help from a financial counseling center run by the United Way.
However, things are looking pretty grim for many in her generation, Jackson-Hill said.
"People who have had more experience, who have more degrees, are funneling into the jobs us college students usually get," she said. "Entry-level jobs are starting to require things like work experience, a second language. It's hard because not a lot of people want to take a person who hasn't had a job."
Then there are those with loads of experience.
After leaving the Air Force in 1979, George Yasser made a "nice living" wiring telephone and computer networks at high-tech campuses in Silicon Valley until 2008. That's when the company he worked for jettisoned that sort of work after the dot-com bust and the recession hit the technology building industry hard.
"I was on the crews that wired the Ciscos, the Apples, the Hewlett-Packards," he said. "I was taking home $750 a week and I could buy just about anything I wanted."
He's now 54 and in a San Jose homeless shelter. After running through his savings and unemployment benefits, he lost his apartment in Antioch and then lost his father, also an Air Force veteran. The double shock of unemployment and his father's death threw Yasser into an emotional tailspin and a bed at the veterans hospital in Menlo Park.
Today, he's figured out that the rush to wireless networking has made his former job obsolete, and he's trying to reinvent himself as a security guard.
Staff writer Joe Rodriguez contributed to this report. Contact Matt O'Brien at 925-977-8463.