Silicon Valley's 'middle class' earns 7 times US average

In the suburb home to HP and Tesla, high salaries are the norm. But that doesn't mean the residents of Palo Alto feel well off.

Claire Reilly Former Principal Video Producer
Claire Reilly was a video host, journalist and producer covering all things space, futurism, science and culture. Whether she's covering breaking news, explaining complex science topics or exploring the weirder sides of tech culture, Claire gets to the heart of why technology matters to everyone. She's been a regular commentator on broadcast news, and in her spare time, she's a cabaret enthusiast, Simpsons aficionado and closet country music lover. She originally hails from Sydney but now calls San Francisco home.
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  • Webby Award Winner (Best Video Host, 2021), Webby Nominee (Podcasts, 2021), Gold Telly (Documentary Series, 2021), Silver Telly (Video Writing, 2021), W3 Award (Best Host, 2020), Australian IT Journalism Awards (Best Journalist, Best News Journalist 2017)
Claire Reilly
2 min read
Low angle view of traffic lights and a street sign, Silicon Valley, San Francisco, California, USA

Palo Alto, in the heart of Silicon Valley, is home to some of the wealthiest residents in the US. 


Sunny Palo Alto. Population 67,000. A suburb home to 2,300 startups, where the median income is double the US average and people earning up to $400,000 a year consider themselves "middle class."

Welcome to Silicon Valley, where people earning almost seven times the national average are struggling.

According to a survey from local news outlet the Palo Alto Weekly, residents of one of the most affluent suburbs in America have all the outward signs of wealth, but many are feeling the pinch when it comes to living in the Silicon Valley bubble.

Over December 2017 and January 2018, the Palo Alto Weekly surveyed more than 250 residents, with a third of respondents who incomes ranging from $10,000 to $399,999 identifying as "middle class."

Less than 10 percent identified as "lower middle class," but that group included people who self-reported an annual income of up to $349,999.

Home to companies including HP and Tesla and around the corner from the nearby headquarters of Google, Facebook and Apple , Palo Alto is synonymous with tech innovation and Silicon Valley disruption. And with that comes serious wealth. According to Census data, the median household income in Palo Alto is $137,000 a year, while the US average is $57,600.

But in its research, the Palo Alto Weekly found a suburb divided. And in a place where wealth is on show, many are struggling to keep up with Joneses.

"In almost any other part of the country we would be wealthy. Here, we are living month to month," said one respondent.

"In this area, it feels like middle-of-the-road middle class, but where I'm from, I'd own a house and be in the upper middle class," said another.

One respondent defined themselves as "middle class only because we're surrounded by hundreds of millionaires in Palo Alto."

Read the full details of the research at the Palo Alto Weekly website