Tracking the Bay Area's Progress Toward an Equitable Recovery

October 6, 2022

Our new dashboard provides data for advocates and policymakers to track the region’s progress toward an equitable recovery and future.

By Simone Robbennolt

The shock of Covid-19 exposed and exacerbated the deep and structural inequities that have long existed in the Bay Area. Even before the pandemic hit, residents of color and those with low incomes were already struggling to remain in the region and thrive, as they faced extreme income inequality, a high cost of living, and a growing housing affordability crisis.

Covid-19 destabilized their lives in many ways, including limiting their access to secure employment, safe and affordable housing, and childcare; worsening their mental health; and stripping away their financial security and stability. And while the initial economic shock of the pandemic has subsided and measures such as the unemployment rate suggest a return to pre-pandemic levels, low-income communities and communities of color hardest hit by the pandemic’s social and economic disruptions have yet to recover fully.

A truly equitable recovery in the Bay Area would create a different economy than our pre-pandemic economy where low-wage workers endured stagnant wages, high housing costs, and a digital divide. As a region, we must create economic conditions that are far better than what existed before the pandemic — and set in place the policies and investments to realize that vision. Doing so would ensure economic stability and security for all — where prosperity is broadly shared and the region’s working-class people and people of color have good jobs, dignified and rising standards of living, and can prosper.

We developed the Bay Area Recovery Tracker to monitor the nine-county region’s progress toward an inclusive and equitable recovery. Across three levels (regional, county, and zip code), we are tracking if the region is building more inclusive economies and communities.

The dashboard provides current data across three focus areas: economic security and prosperity, housing justice, and healthy communities of opportunity. Within these three focus areas are 16 unique indicators, ranging from access to remote work, households behind on rent, and public school enrollment rates. The dashboard features data broken down by gender, income group, and race/ethnicity whenever this disaggregation is available. It also includes maps on housing affordability and Covid-19 cases and vaccination rates. This tool will be updated quarterly; some indicators, such as access to quality broadband and occupational segregation, that are reliant on yearly datasets will be updated yearly.

Data and Methods

The Bay Area Recovery Tracker draws from a mix of data sources. We rely on timely, nationally representative datasets and prioritize regularly updated data sources to provide a real-time snapshot of how communities are faring.

The dashboard draws on:

  • The Census Household Pulse Survey from August 18, 2020, to August 8, 2022
  • The monthly Integrated Public Use Microdata Series (IPUMS) Current Population Survey (CPS) data, which provides social and economic trends in the United States as well as pandemic-related findings
  • Open source data from Bay Area counties on Covid-19 cases and vaccination rates
  • The State of California’s Employment Development Department data on county-level unemployment rates Zillow housing data on typical home values and observed market rate rent for given regions
  • The Self-Sufficiency Standard created by the Insight Center’s Family Needs Calculator, which measures the base income necessary to afford basic expenses in California
  • The 2019 and 2020 5-year American Community Survey (ACS) IPUMS data, which we use when more frequently updated data is not available through the other sources listed above

To ensure adequate sample sizes that allow us to disaggregate data by race/ethnicity, we sometimes combine monthly observations at the quarterly level or aggregated demographic groups to create broader categorizations. For several indicators on the dashboard, we combine race/ethnicity groups into an overarching people of color category in an effort to avoid reporting highly unreliable estimates. We highlight the various geographies available throughout the dashboard and provide data at the most localized level when possible.

The Region’s Low-income Communities and Communities of Color Have Not Recovered

While the common narrative is that the Bay Area’s economy has bounced back from Covid-19, our analysis indicates that the long-term economic impacts of the pandemic continue to linger and disproportionately impact the well-being of the region’s low-income communities and communities of color.

We created a series of goals for each indicator based on aspirational or historical benchmarks. These benchmarks indicate that the region is trending toward success in some areas of recovery (e.g., experiencing symptoms of depression). Yet, regional trends in other aspects of the recovery — such as the difficulty of covering usual expenses and the percentage of households behind on rent — have worsened or have seen little to no improvement.

Key findings include:

  • Residents of color are struggling to cover their usual expenses because of long-standing occupational segregation, the rising cost of living, and a persistent lack of flexibility in working conditions. In an economy that has recovered equitably,  all work would have value and every job would be a living-wage job with dignity. No adult should find it hard to cover their expenses. Yet as of August 8, 2022, 39 percent of adults of color in the Bay Area reported that it was somewhat or very difficult to pay for their usual expenses, compared to 27 percent of white adults. These rates have not improved since the summer of 2020 — the start of data collection for this indicator. 

  • Affordable housing continues to be unattainable for residents across the region. Homeownership outside of the region’s urban core has become increasingly unaffordable and rising rents have made it challenging for low-income workers to find housing. In addition, 17 percent of renter households of color are behind on rent, compared to just five percent of white renter households. In a fully equitable recovery, no household would have rent debt, yet the share of households behind on rent slightly increased — from 10 percent in August 2020 to 12 percent in August 2022. 

  • Low-income residents and residents of color in the Bay Area are still struggling to access basic needs and supports, such as childcare and food. Access to high-quality affordable childcare is essential for a strong economic recovery, but 24 percent of Bay Area households indicated that they either had to quit or shorten their work hours to manage childcare responsibilities — down from 36 percent in February 2022. In addition, food hardship continues to persist for many households: 22 percent of low-income households and 13 percent of households of color in the region reported that they sometimes or often do not have enough to eat.

The Recovery Tracker data underscores the urgent need to prioritize policies and strategies that lay the foundation for a stronger, more equitable, and prosperous future in the Bay Area. Throughout the fall, we will release a series of analyses on the three areas highlighted in the dashboard — economic security and prosperity, housing justice, and healthy communities of opportunity. In these analyses, we will explore key trends and highlight actionable solutions that can help advance an equitable recovery in the region.