Nowhere is this growing disparity more obvious than this sprawling and trash-strewn 28-acre tent city that authorities are trying to clean out. Beneath the sweeping shadow and roar of jets soaring in and out of nearby San Jose's international airport, residents here say times are so tight they have nowhere else to turn.

"This is the most ridiculous place ever," said Kristina Erbenich, 38, clambering onto her bike, a heavy pack on her back. The former chef said she spent $14,000 on hotel rooms before her savings ran out. "If everyone around here is so rich, why can't they do something to help?"

United Way Silicon Valley CEO Carole Leigh Hutton wonders the same thing.

"How is it that in an area so very rich, we have so many people so very poor? Why can't we break that cycle? With all the brain power in the Silicon Valley, we should be able to solve these problems. But what we need is the collective will."

The causes for the growing disparity are complex, but largely come down to one thing: a very high cost of living. The median home price is $550,000, and rents average just under $2,000 a month for a two-bedroom apartment in this region that is home to many of the nation's wealthiest companies including Facebook, Apple Inc., Hewlett-Packard Co. and Google. For a family of four, just covering basic needs like rent, food, childcare and transportation comes to almost $90,000 a year, according to the nonprofit Insight Center for Community Economic Development.

"The fact is that we have an economy now that's working well only for those at the very top," said Lawrence Mishel at the Economic Policy Institute in Washington D.C. "Unless we adopt a new approach to economic policy, we're going to continue going down this path, which means growth that does not really benefit the great majority of people in this country."

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