San Francisco Has More Billionaires Per Capita Than Anywhere Else on Earth

Photo: Justin Sullivan (Getty)

Have you ever been to billionaire’s row in San Francisco? It’s an exceptionally rich part of San Francisco filled with enormous tech wealth, the kind of place where you can make a living out of digging through the trash of the rich.

Sitting on top of Silicon Valley, San Francisco has the highest density of billionaires in the world, according to a new “Billionaire Census” report from Wealth-X.

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San Francisco has a total tally of 75 billionaires. That means one out of every 11,600 people in the city by the bay is a billionaire, a number that dwarfs the next cities on the list: New York, Dubai, and Hong Kong.

In absolute numbers, New York City (105) and Hong Kong (87) both have a handful more billionaires outright, but they’re both cities of over 7 million people. San Francisco has fewer than 1 million people packed inside the small city.

Source: Wealth-X

While the rest of the world’s billionaires lost a bit of wealth in 2018 due to global economic uncertainty, North America’s billionaires were the world’s only group to grow their numbers and wealth, according to the report. I know you were all worried for them, please regain your composure.

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San Francisco’s staggering wealth gap extends beyond the billionaire class. To enter into the city’s top 20 percent of earners, it takes a household $231,000 income, according to a study conducted by personal finance company SmartAsset. That’s twice the national average.

A household in the top 20 percent earns over seven times as much as those in the bottom 20 percent, a set of numbers that adds up to a wide wealth gap that is constantly at the center of the conversation in San Francisco.

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In anticipation of the creation of even more wealth during this year’s wave of a dozen San Francisco-based tech IPOs, city supervisor Gordon Mar introduced legislation to raise a so-called “IPO tax” that would San Francisco’s old 1.5 percent payroll tax rate. The rate changed in 2011 when the city lowered it in an effort to attract more tech firms.

Being a billionaire sounds awfully swell, but for the rest of us in San Francisco, even those lucky enough to be working in the booming tech sector, it’s an incredibly expensive place to live. Tech workers average well into six-figure salaries, but houses here average $1.34 million and normal down payments come in at around $250,000.

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If you aren’t in the tech industry, you face bigger challenges. A recent study found 90 percent of workers in Silicon Valley have seen their wages fall over the last two decades when adjusted for inflation and cost of living.

“I see this as a real warning sign,” University of California Santa Cruz Professor Chris Benner, who published the study with worker advocacy group Working Partnerships USA, told Recode. “Tech has been a tremendously successful business market, but we need business leaders to ensure that our workers are benefitting from economic growth.”

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The housing crisis here was deemed a “code red” by California Governor Gavin Newsom.

“It’s a crisis,” Newsom told the New York Times last year while he was campaigning. “We can’t live on intentions. At the end of the day, if you want to move the mouse, you’ve got to move the cheese. The middle class of the state is leaving in droves. This is a Code Red in California.”

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The city’s wealth gap was illustrated most pointedly recently when a United Nations official called the housing crisis a “human rights violation. Hey, they don’t give distinctions like that to just anybody.

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About the author

Patrick Howell O'Neill

Reporter in Silicon Valley. Contact me: Email poneill@gizmodo.com, Signal +1-650-488-7247