Economic Social Legal Pathways, Inc.

The Silent Crisis

San Francisco Bay Area is bustling with high tech jobs, energy and promise. The population of the Bay Area has increased by 270,000 since 2010, reaching 7.4 million by the end of 2015 according to the California Department of Finance (DOF). Yet the Bay Area faces a silent crisis that could prevent it from realizing its full potential: persistent poverty.

Despite being one of the world's wealthiest regions, there were 829,547 people living in poverty in the Bay Area in 2015. According to federal poverty thresholds, poverty ranges from annual income of $11,490 for a one-person household to $23,550 for a family of four. Many thousands more earn just enough to escape the technical definition of poverty, which is just $23,550 for a family of four. Nearly 500,000 survive on incomes that put them in a “deep poverty” category, defined as less than half the federal poverty limit. 

The Bay Area has a fast-growing frontier economy that is the starting point for much of the technology created nationwide, that has created some dislocation between those who are riding the innovation-fueled surge of job creation and wage growth, and those who don't have the skills to keep up. And all of this is happening in a region with runaway housing and rental prices.

Poverty affects the entire region, but some groups suffer from it more than others. Blacks and Latinos are twice as likely to be poor as whites. Poverty is also high among people with disabilities (40 percent) and households headed by single mothers (42 percent).

Poverty rates vary significantly across the region. By county, poverty rates range from a high in San Francisco of 13.8% to lows in San Mateo and Marin Counties of just 7.8% and 8.4%, respectively. Disparities are even greater when looking at Census Tracts. San Francisco’s Tenderloin area has a poverty rate of 50.6% while the poverty rate in the outskirts of Vacaville is nearly 0.0%.

The Bay Area’s poor children live in pockets of poverty. While the rate of poverty among children in the Palo Alto Unified School District is just 4.2%, it is a staggering 27.9% in the Oakland Unified School District. Poverty rates among school aged children are generally highest in Alameda and Santa Clara Counties, and along the I-80 east west corridor.

Effective Collaboration

Confronting poverty requires teasing out its multiple contributing factors while at the same time approaching them as a whole. 

This is a daunting task that requires meticulous research, strong commitment, creative problem solving, clear and continuous communication, and the backbone support of a coordinating agency that both holds the vision and applies stringent standards of efficiency and efficacy. ESLP was established to be that agency. 

Adopting a philosophy of “collective impact,” ESLP will work to dismantle the barriers to effective collaboration among poverty-fighting agencies and institutions. These groups often work in isolation from one another, sometimes duplicating data and services. In addition to bringing organizations together, ESLP will objectively track progress, retaining the flexibility to modify programs in response to up-to-date data gathering and cutting-edge research. 

A Comprehensive Strategy

Shared Prosperity Bay Area is the major first step in our comprehensive strategy.  Our partners are leading academics, officers of philanthropic foundations, City and County officials. Central to the process are the frontline experiences of providers and consumers of a range of anti-poverty services. The data and expertise gleaned from this highly iterative process frames an action plan focused on reducing the deleterious effects of poverty on individuals and communities while constructing a set of policy goals that can increase the number of job opportunities available in the Bay Area Cities and prepare the Bay Residents to better qualify for them.


Guided by the five conditions of collective impact and the scale of poverty in the Bay Area, ESLP will work with partners to pursue five goals:

  1. Focus workforce development and job creation efforts on adults with the greatest barriers to employment
  2. Expand access to public benefits and essential services
  3. Ensure children enter school prepared to learn and expand opportunities for year-round learning
  4. Increase housing security and affordability
  5. Strengthen economic security and asset-building


To that end, the ESLP and its partners will target people-centered strategies in three levels of intervention to:

  • Alleviate poverty’s most immediate effects through increased access to essential services and income-boosting benefits
  • Provide pathways out of poverty that support education, employment, financial literacy and asset-building
  • Prevent the inter-generational transfer of poverty by providing social and educational supports to children and families and advocating for policies that create an even playing field for low-income and marginalized Californians.

The time horizon for impact will vary according to level of intervention; for example, policy change is likely to take longer to effect than increasing people’s access to vital services and benefits will.  ESLP will launch the strategies outlined in Shared Prosperity Bay Area in the next one to two years though it will take longer to significantly reduce the poverty rate in the Bay Area.  Shared Prosperity Bay Area should be read as a foundational document for Bay Area’s ongoing anti-poverty efforts.

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