If nothing else, Amazon’s HQ2 decisions may accelerate America’s great divergence, where highly educated urbanites are doing better and better, and everyone else is doing worse. Amazon has jobs outside of cities too, of course, but those are often low-paying and grueling jobs that don’t have much room for upward mobility. “If you project forward to the dismal geography of a future in which Amazon utterly dominates, you have a handful of places that are doing well, where there are high-paid tech jobs,” Stacy Mitchell, the co-director of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, told me. “Then you have a bunch of cities and neighborhoods, that if they’re lucky, will maybe get some warehouse jobs at $15 an hour and nothing else.”
Seattle and San Francisco may be an omen. Rents in King County, where Seattle is located, have grown 65 percent since 2009, and the city is spending more and more money on programs to combat homelessness. Housing prices have risen significantly in recent years, pricing out the many people whose wages remained stagnant over that time. In Seattle, luxury apartments built for tech workers sit empty, while lower-income workers still search for affordable housing further and further away. (When Seattle’s council passed a head tax on big companies to raise money for affordable housing, Amazon joined with the local Chamber of Commerce to get the council to reverse its vote.)
In San Francisco, the average rent for a one-bedroom is now $3,300, up 22 percent from 2011. Low-income people and people of color are being pushed farther and farther away from the city center—tales of hours-long commutes one-way are not uncommon—and often work in contract jobs with little job security and no benefits.