Has COVID pushed Gulf region stress to breaking point?

It may have never been an easy place to live, but the malaise and uncertainty have now largely settled into the Bay Area.

The insane, deadly, and ever-increasing COVID-19 pandemic has put another layer of stifling pressure on an already stressful region — fundamentally changing how we feel about home and work, our community and safety, and long-term living prospects in the Bay Area, according to an exclusive new survey by The Bay Group. Area News Group and Joint Venture Silicon Valley.

The pandemic has darkened our psyches and our sense of security even as most residents report better financial stability and less anxiety about meeting daily needs for food and shelter.

Sixty percent of Bay Area residents surveyed said they had felt more stressed since the pandemic hit, and nearly 1 in 3 said their mental health had deteriorated over the past five years.

In an alarming breakthrough, for the first time since the poll began asking the question in 2018, a solid majority – 56 percent – said they expect to leave the Gulf region in the next few years despite the world’s leading economy, great weather and natural beauty. A hive of cultural delights. A similar majority said the region was heading in the wrong direction.

For many, satisfaction seems elusive.

“I’m still nervous,” said Tilisha Oliver, 41, a single mom from Hayward. She was laid off from Nordstrom early in the pandemic and moved between apartments as she struggled with high rents in the Bay Area and poor public transportation.

For over a year, Oliver stayed home because she was concerned about her chronic health problems. “I feel like if I get COVID, I might die,” Oliver said.

In the survey of 1,610 registered voters in Santa Clara, San Mateo, San Francisco, Alameda and Contra Costa counties, 71% said quality of life in the Bay Area had declined in the past five years — a fairly consistent level of discontent expressed by residents since then. . 2019. But this year, half of them are feeling more isolated and lonely than they did before the pandemic, and two-thirds are worried about the future.

Concern has also mounted about the problems facing the Gulf region as the region grapples with the effects of climate change and a nation riven by political polarization. Consider these differences from a similar survey conducted in January 2020 with Silicon Valley Leadership Group:

  • Severe concern about wildfires grew from 70% to 85% between 2020 and 2021;
  • Concerns have risen sharply over drought (from 43% in 2020 to 84% this year) and inadequate water supply (from 48% to 80%);
  • Concern about the division and mistrust between political parties has deepened, with 76% calling it a serious problem compared to 58% last year.
  • Meanwhile, about 9 in 10 said the cost of housing and rising rates of homelessness were very serious or extremely dangerous, while maintaining their position as the region’s top concern.

Russell Hancock, CEO of Joint Venture Silicon Valley, said the pandemic appears to have shifted priorities for many in the Bay Area, with an increased focus on personal wellness, and family work-life balance, which could prompt more people to consider leaving.


Nearly two-thirds of people required to be on site for work want to leave. Overall, 6 in 10 people in the workforce expect to move, including 46% of technology workers. The vast majority of Bay Area employees who work from home at least part-time are considering time off.

“We know we’re a really high-cost area. We know droughts and wildfires are approaching,” Hancock said. “But I really think it’s housing. …people think the first batch is out of reach.”

Concerns about fires and droughts are severe across the state, said Alex Chen, survey data analyst at Embold Research, who conducted the survey. Almost public concern about rising housing costs and homelessness, Chen said, “means something is very rotten.”

Most feel the Bay Area is an excellent place to start a career, but it’s just a good place to raise a family and a bad place to retire.

Aslan Nguyen, 22, graduated from the University of California, Irvine and recently landed a job as a software engineer at a financial services company in Palo Alto. Nguyen, the eldest of three children, grew up in the city of Dali. He returned home during the pandemic, as he struggled to manage family health emergencies, limited finances and college studies.

Early this year, he looked after his parents and two younger sisters when they contracted the virus and were left bedridden. Consider the dropout.

Although he earned a six-figure tech salary after graduating from college, he is more anxious and unsure about the future. Many of his college friends working in technology are already feeling overwhelmed. “The career prospects here are excellent, although I still feel like I might lose my price eventually,” Nguyen said.

Attitudes toward work have also been shifted by the ongoing health crisis and the extension of remote work for many professionals.

While many say that returning to the office part-time brings benefits, few remote workers want to return five days a week. The overwhelming majority of the 98 percent of current and former techies who can work from home said they wanted to stay away at least for some time when the crisis subsided. Nearly 7 in 10 want to be away most of the time or all the time.

More than half of tech workers who expected to leave the region said one reason was a desire to work remotely at a Bay Area company.

Ron Fuentes, director of technology sales, changed jobs early in the pandemic and saw workload and efficiency soar. He set up a full office in his home in Danville, where he held meetings with his colleagues in India at all times. He said he might consider going back to the office one or two days a week, but he’s found that he’s much more productive without the commute and work travel.

Fuentes, 60, and his wife considered moving to other parts of the state or Texas, but they said, “When it comes to life, friends and opportunities, we haven’t seen the lottery.”

Ron Fuentes, 60, a sales manager, has found happiness during the pandemic by changing jobs and working more from his home in Danville. (Anda Chu Group/Bai Area News)

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