Weighing in on wages

Examining the wage differences in Santa Clara County compared to the rest of the United States


Ananya Chaudhary

Food service workers in Santa Clara County earn an hourly wage of 16.59 dollars and an annual income of 34,500 dollars

Ananya Chaudhary

The average wage in Cupertino, California is among the highest in the United States. Located in Santa Clara County, the city boasts a strong economy driven by the presence of major technology companies such as Apple, Intel and Hewlett-Packard. According to the United States Census Bureau, the median household income in Cupertino, California, in 2021 was 199,778 dollars, which is significantly higher than the median household income for California, 84,907 dollars and the median household income in the United States, 69,717 dollars. The high cost of living in Cupertino is another factor that contributes to the high wages of employees, as the city’s median home price is approximately 3 million dollars, which is also significantly higher than the national average. 

Junior Rishi Manoj recently started working at Safari Run, where he puts in approximately eight hours per week and earns 18 dollars per hour. Although he feels that his pay is decent for a high school student with a part-time job, he recognizes that there may be significant disparities between the compensation received by workers in different fields.

“There is some inequality between big corporations like Apple [and] Microsoft, as opposed to smaller or different types of [jobs, such] as a cashier or [other] minimum wage [jobs],” Manoj said. “The [number] of jobs and the [number] of people working in these bigger companies [causes] some inequality [in wages] between them and the smaller or lower-paying jobs.”

Income inequality in Santa Clara County is a significant issue, as displayed by the county’s high Gini coefficient, a measure of income inequality, where 0 represents perfect income equality and 1 represents complete inequality. In 2020, California’s Gini coefficient was 0.498, meaning income tends to be unequally distributed.  

Wages play a significant role in income inequality in Santa Clara County. The county has a highly educated and skilled workforce due to its abundance of high-tech industries, which drives the median wage. However, these elevated wages result in soaring housing prices. According to a report by Danville San Ramon, a worker in Santa Clara must earn more than 55.15 dollars per hour to afford a two-bedroom rental home. The high cost of living in the area exacerbates income inequality, as those earning lower wages struggle to make ends meet.

“I think we can pay more for minimum wage work  [by] increasing [it will] help make [the] quality of life better or make it easier for [some] people,” Manoj said. “I [also] think that could help with income inequality, [because] the difference between the [wages of] big corporations [and] smaller businesses [could be balanced out].”

Cupertino has a minimum wage that is significantly higher than California’s minimum wage of 15.50 dollars per hour. As of 2023, the minimum wage in the city has reached 17.20 dollars per hour, up from 16.40 dollars the previous year. This steady increase in the minimum wage since 2017 reflects the high cost of living in the area and the effort to provide livable wages for all workers. However, some workers and advocates believe that the minimum wage still needs to catch up with the rising cost of inflation. 

A comparison of minimum wage in California, Cupertino, and the United States.

Junior Ridhima Katare, who previously worked as a lifeguard and earned 16.90 dollars per hour, believes the minimum wage should be adjusted with inflation.

“The minimum wage and [average] income in Santa Clara County are definitely way higher than in other places in the country, it just needs to be adjusted with inflation,” Katare said. “I feel like they’re raising it as much as they can, but I know that [the] county government has a lot of funds. So I [hope to see them] raise it [more in the] future.”

Katare believes that it is crucial to align the minimum wage with the rising inflation rate as it has become difficult to buy necessities, as well as non-essential items. She had taken up a summer job primarily to save money and purchase the things she desires. Still, with the increase in the cost of clothing items and inflation, she now feels it is unreasonable to spend such a significant amount on relatively small purchases.

“Suppose I worked for one hour [I earned] $20, [and I went]  into a store to buy a shirt, and it was $25. I wouldn’t be able to do that,” Katare said. “Whereas, five years ago if [I] was working my job and were making $15 an hour, I could walk into a store and buy a shirt for $15. [Minimum wage]  hasn’t increased at the same rate.”

Hannah Gould has been teaching at MVHS for seven years and has a similar viewpoint on wages. She believes that teachers’ wages are not nearly enough to afford housing and necessities for themselves and to support families.

“In the last couple of years, my expenses have gone up [due to] housing, and it feels impossible to save for the future, [despite not having urgent financial needs]. It seems like all my paycheck goes towards rent,” Gould said.

Teachers in Cupertino earn relatively high salaries compared to the national average. In Santa Clara County, middle school teachers make an average salary of 79.290 dollars, while high school teachers make 79,300 dollars. This is noticeably higher than the average salary for middle school and high school teachers in California, who make 70,490 dollars and 70,500 dollars, respectively. 

Gould teaches various courses, including Drama, Advanced Drama and Honors American Literature. Gould chose to teach at the high school level to make a significant impact on students and for better security and benefits compared to teaching at universities or lower-level schools. Although her salary is higher than other district teachers, the small increases do not improve her financial situation, and she would rather see the money go towards initiatives that make a real difference for teachers and students.

“I teach more courses than there are periods in the day,” Gould said. “So instead of automatically giving us raises, if that money could get reallocated to fund sections like Humanities and Arts electives,  that would make my life naturally so much better.”

While wages in Cupertino have been increasing, they have not kept up with the rising cost of living, which has been exacerbated by inflation. This has made it difficult for people to support themselves and their families, and has forced essential workers such as teachers to move away from their jobs in search of more affordable living arrangements. Although the recent minimum wage increase is a step in the right direction, it is not sufficient to address the broader issue of income inequality. A more substantial increase in worker pay or a decrease in inflation is necessary to alleviate the burden on workers and ensure that they are able to maintain a decent standard of living.

“I make more than any of my teacher friends I know [in] other districts, and so my salary is [relatively] high,” Gould said. “The challenge [in] this area [is the] high cost of living, so even with this salary [if] I’m looking to buy a house at some point, it just still feels impossible. Relative to other teachers, [the pay] is good, but relative to this area, it’s not enough, and it will never be [enough].”