Almost 70 percent of Bay Area residents polled in a recent study said they don’t believe the Bay Area is doing better now than six months ago – and close to half of them say they expect a significant downturn in the area in the next three years.
The data come from a 2017 Bay Area Council Poll, which surveyed 1,000 registered voters from around the nine-county Bay Area from Jan. 24 through Feb. 1. It was conducted online by Oakland-based public opinion research firm EMC Research and asked respondents questions that touched on the region’s hot-button issues of housing, economy, transportation, growth, education and workforce.
“The growing intensity of concern about the Bay Area economy is particularly troubling. Confidence is an important indicator of the direction of our economy, and residents are feeling increasingly uneasy,” Jim Wunderman, CEO of the Bay Area Council, told the Business Time.
When the same questioned was posed during the council’s 2014 study, 53 percent of respondents felt the economy was doing better compared to the prior six months. This year, only 24 percent thought it would improve in the next six months, a 50 percent drop from 2014, with millennials showing the least amount of confidence in the Bay Area economy.
Wunderman said he was not surprised by those findings, because younger residents tend to be squeezed more by high housing costs, crushing commutes and an expensive cost of living locally.
“The Bay Area economy is still very strong, but we’ve just come off of two soft months in employment growth and we’re hearing more frequently from employers about how housing and traffic are making it difficult to grow here and attract talent,” he told the Business Times. “We’ve got to get more serious about adding housing and improving the commute.”
This year, housing and traffic topped the list of things respondents said they were most worried about, with 33 percent of millennials citing cost of living as the Bay’s biggest issue, and 65 percent of them saying it ranked in the region’s top three problems. But across all metrics, every group generally felt less economic confidence in the Bay Area than they have in the last four years of surveys.
“Confidence in the economy is slipping. The concern is widely felt, across counties, generations, income levels and ethnicities. We would be foolish to ignore these warning signs,” Wunderman said. “The economy is either going up or going down. It doesn’t stand still. Much better that we keep momentum going up.”
Another troubling sign? A recent analysis of state jobs data by the Bay Area Council Economic Institute projects that the Bay Area will only create 86,000 jobs in 2017, a sharp downturn from the 142,000 created in 2016. That played out in the survey, which found that only 25 percent of respondents thought they are doing better financially compared to six months ago.
Wunderman pointed to the Bay Area as a continually strong attractor of top talent, investment money, solid growth and economic expansion. None of that may last forever, he cautioned.
“But we can’t take any of that for granted. The problems of traffic, high cost of living and soaring housing costs are serious constraints on employers’ ability to grow here,” he said. “An executive recently told me that there will always be Silicon Valley, but it just may not be here. We need to take that very seriously.”