Monthly Archives: December 2014

The counties encompassing Silicon Valley and San Francisco are among the most unequal places in California and the entire United States, according to income tax statistics published by California’s Franchise Tax Board. The same data set shows that rural regions, the major population centers of the Central Valley, and the outer-ring suburbs of LA and northern California’s East Bay are less unequal in terms of the distribution of income.

National-level data (from 2012) reveals that the top 1 percent of income earners claim just above 20 percent of the entire national income. In California for the same year, the top 0.5 percent of income earners claimed 20 percent of the entire state’s income, making California more unequal than the rest of the U.S.

Californian’s earning above $400,000 (roughly equal to the national average income level of the top 1 percent) account for 1.7 percent of California’s population, but they claimed $349 billion of the state’s total income. That’s equivalent to 30 percent of the state’s entire income.

At the other end of the spectrum in California are workers, retirees, students, and other low-income persons who claimed less than $49,000 in income in 2012. These 9.5 million people, equal to 60 percent of the state’s total population of tax filers, claimed only 17 percent of the total income pie. (See the graphs below; aggregate dollars in thousands; numbers not equal to state’s population, but instead the population of tax filers; some tax filers filed jointly; other caveats apply.)

Screen Shot 2014-12-29 at 3.02.23 PMBy far the most unequal counties in California are those that encompass the deliriously wealthy cities of Silicon Valley. San Mateo County appears to be the most unequal county due to a concentration of super-high income earners in places like Atherton, Woodside and Menlo Park, alongside a cluster of very low income individuals who live mostly in places like San Bruno and South San Francisco. It’s poverty amid spectacular plenty.


Larry Ellison, who was paid $96 million in 2012, describes something very small, perhaps the reported income half of San Mateo County’s residents earned the same year. Ellison’s San Mateo County residence, in Woodside, cost $200 million to build.

In San Mateo the top 3.6 percent claimed over $18 billion in income, or 48 percent of the county’s total income pie. Meanwhile the bottom 48 percent made by with only $3.6 billion in income split among themselves. For the bottom 48 percent the mean income level was $22,000. The top 3.6 percent had a mean income of $1.5 million.

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San Francisco isn’t far behind in terms of extreme income inequality. The top 2.8 percent of San Francisco’s income earners claimed 39.8 percent of the county’s total income. The bottom 52 percent made by with a collective share of just 11.3 percent of the total income, giving them a mean income of about $23,000 compared to the mean income of $1.5 million for the top 2.8 percent.

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Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg points in the direction of his net worth. Does he live in Santa Clara County, or San Francisco? From which county does he file his personal tax return? He has houses in both counties. His income in 2012 included $770,000 in salary and bonuses from Facebook, putting him comfortably in the top 1%. Of course it’s the Facebook stock and options he’s amassed that makes him truly wealthy, therefore today he only claims $1 a year in pay.

Santa Clara County is similarly riven with extreme income inequality. Those making $400,000 and up claimed 33 percent of Santa Clara County’s total income pie, even though they only accounted for 3 percent of the county’s taxpayers.

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In Los Angeles and Alameda counties the income distributions look different due to several factors. First is the sheer concentration of very poor people in these counties, in numbers exceeding San Francisco and San Mateo. LA and Alameda counties also have somewhat larger middle classes that claim bigger shares of the total income pie. Even so, these counties are still dramatically unequal. In Los Angeles, for example, the top 1 percent claims $68 billion in income, equal to 27 percent of the county’s total income pie. The bottom 66 percent claims less than the top 1 percent: $56 billion, or a share of 22 percent of the total.

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Other major population centers such as the Inland Empire and Fresno and Kern counties in the Central Valley appear to be less unequal in terms of income distribution. For example, in San Bernardino County the super-rich (those claiming above $400,000 a year in income) only took 5.6 percent of the total income pie. In Riverside it was 7.7 percent. In Fresno the top 0.6 percent took 13 percent of the total income pie, and in Kern it was 11.8 percent. Sacramento’s richest families in terms of income claimed 7.9 percent of the total income pie.

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From the Brooklyn Eagle newspaper, Alberta Fields, widow of Henry Fields, the 26 year-old man shot and killed by the New York City Police in 1951.

On May 26, 1951 a twenty-six year old unarmed Black man was shot in the back by a New York City police officer. His name was Henry Fields, Jr. His father, Henry Sr., told newspapers that his son was a “good boy” who worked in a produce store on Osborn Street in Brownsville, deep in Brooklyn. Relatives said Henry Jr. had never been in serious trouble before. He died of the gunshot wound just blocks from his home.

The killing of Henry Fields might sound familiar. Fields was chased down by the police after committing a misdemeanor offense, and for it he was met with a sentence of capital punishment. Familiar too was the lack of consequences for the officer who shot Fields.

Fields was driving his brother’s car and had a fender-bender accident with another motorist. He fled the scene the accident, but was chased by motorists, including two officers in a patrol car. Not very far into the chase, Fields pulled over. The police said a flat tire stopped him. When Fields exited the vehicle, patrolman Samuel Applebaum, a military veteran with extensive firearms training, drew up his sights on the young man and fired a .32 caliber slug into his neck.

Fields was well known and liked in his community. As his lifeless body bled into the street, an angry crowd gathered. The police sent upwards of twenty patrol cars and more than that many cops to the scene. A local pastor was enlisted by the authorities to calm onlookers and prevent a riot.

Within twenty-four hours a call was put out to gather for a mass rally to protest the killing of Fields. Former Congressman Vito Marcantonio appealed to the District Attorney Miles McDonald that there be “immediate grand jury proceedings in the wanton killing.”

“This is the latest in a long series of police murders of innocent Negros,” wrote Marcantonio. “Police brutality is turning streets of New York into areas of official police lawlessness and terror.

One meeting to plan a political response to the killing drew over 1,600 people. Forty patrolmen and twenty-five plainclothes officers prowled around the community meeting.

Despite it being 1951, there was a grand jury investigation into Fields’ slaying. And here’s where it’s both a familiar and unfamiliar story. The events echo the recent actions of grand juries in Ferguson, Missouri and Staten Island, New York, but the inquiry into Fields’ murder also revealed a streak of independence in District Attorney Miles McDonald and his staff.

In June a Brooklyn grand jury declined to bring any charges against officer Applebaum. But rather than accept this decision, the District Attorney’s office, which had recently conducted investigations into police corruption and so knew well the problems within NYPD, including racism, lashed out at the grand jury. Assistant District Attorney William Siegel called the grand jury’s decision a “gross miscarriage of justice,” and shamed the member of the jury for acting “capriciously and contrary to the law.”

According to Siegel, there was more than enough evidence to bring the officer to trial for at least manslaughter. Siegel cited the fact that Fields was unarmed; that he was shot after committing nothing more serious than a misdemeanor; that multiple witnesses said Fields was exiting his car in an non-threatening manner when he was shot. Witnesses said the officer made no attempt to stop or apprehend Fields. He simply blew him away. In his appeal to the judge, the assistant DA also noted that officer Appelbaum’s testimony contradicted his expertise and familiarity with firearms. Appelbaum had previously dealt with armed suspects with less than lethal force, once even taking a loaded rifle from a man’s hands. Appelbaum told the grand jury that it all was an “accident.” He “involuntarily” drew his gun and pulled the trigger, and that the bullet bounced off a car and struck Fields.

For all these reasons, and surely because of protest pressure from the community for justice, the District Attorney took the unusual step of asking a judge for a second grand jury investigation into the Fields case, and the judge obliged. But the second grand jury agreed with the first, recommending no charges be brought. Here’s where the unrecognizable ends, and the story concludes with a familiar ring of a justice system beset by racial inequality. Even with a DA who actively sought an indictment of a police officer for killing an unarmed black man, an American grand jury declined to subject a cop to trial.