Special Blog Post By: Ellen Coppins, Market Research Analyst

Second Harvest Food Bank of Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties has released results of its Food Insecurity Study for Silicon Valley revealing that hunger is far more pervasive in Silicon Valley than previous studies have shown – 1 in 4 people in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties is at risk for hunger. This is an alarming level of need, indicating that food insecurity is a widespread issue impacting approximately 720,000 people. Currently, Second Harvest provides food to an average of over 257,000 people every month, leaving a gap of over 450,000 residents who are struggling to put food on the table.

Underneath the veneer of prosperity in Silicon Valley there are many children, families and seniors who aren’t getting enough to eat. These results are particularly surprising when considering that unemployment is at an all-time low. Unfortunately, economic growth in Silicon Valley is creating immense wealth for a minority, while driving the cost of living up for everyone. As economic growth drives costs, like rent, higher, many residents are more at risk for hunger including a significant population of children in our community. It’s the Silicon Valley hunger paradox, and for the first time Second Harvest was able to measure its magnitude.

The majority of those the study found to be at risk for hunger do not earn enough money to afford the high cost of living in Silicon Valley – 95 percent report earning less than $45,000 annually. According to recent numbers from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development which sets income limits that determine eligibility for assisted housing programs, a family of four in Santa Clara County earning $84,750 or less is considered low-income. In San Mateo County, that number is $105,350. Furthermore, the study found that of the almost 720,000 people at risk for hunger in Silicon Valley, nearly a quarter are families with children.

Faced with such high housing and living costs, any issue affecting income can easily lead to a situation where many Silicon Valley residents are suddenly food insecure. Of those who identified as food insecure:

  • 28 percent said their rent had increased in the past year
  • 12 percent faced eviction or foreclosure
  • 25 percent lost their job in the past year
  • 11 percent had their hours cut
  • 17 percent encountered unexpected healthcare costs

At the same, many of those who did not seek out help cited multiple reasons, ranging from a lack of awareness of the food-assistance programs in place to being too embarrassed to ask for help.

Prior estimates of individuals in food insecure households offered artificially low measures of hunger because those models did not account for the high cost of living in Silicon Valley. Housing costs in particular are so high that a family of four in Santa Clara County earning $84,750 or less – and in San Mateo County earning a $105,350 or less – is considered low-income by the federal government when determining eligibility for assisted housing programs.

Second Harvest commissioned the study to get a better sense of the size and scale of hunger in our two counties. We worked with Nichols Research to develop and conduct 30-question, self-administered surveys across Santa Clara and San Mateo counties. The surveys were administered in English, Spanish, Chinese and Vietnamese to 500 Second Harvest Food Bank clients at direct service sites and 250 self-identified non-clients at community sites.

Second Harvest then developed a food insecurity score for each respondent based on their response to eight hunger risk factors and correlated it with demographic data from the survey (income, household size, education, etc.) to create a predictive model. The predictive model was applied to each zip code, using the same demographic data from the U.S. Census, to estimate the level of food insecurity by zip code and apply weighted estimations to total population.

*** Read the Guardian article about our study findings.