Editorial: Too many inequities persist in King County
In 2015, King County must continue an important yearslong effort to measure and achieve prosperity, equity and social justice for all residents.
Seattle Times Editorial
A NEW year brings fresh opportunities to end lingering disparities that keep too many of King County’s nearly 2 million residents from reaching their full potential.
The county’s sixth annual Equity and Social Justice report reveals some people are doing just fine in the region’s hot job market. Others remain left behind. The report shows that a high concentration of risk factors in certain parts of the county can lead to worse outcomes. Residents in these areas often have less access to such things as equity, quality education, transit, nutritious food, health-care services, affordable housing, public safety, early childhood programs and safe outdoor spaces.
People need all those things to thrive. Without them, communities — mostly concentrated in South King County — suffer the consequences.
One map in the report shows that in areas most impacted by illness, poor housing conditions and low wages, such as the Auburn area, life expectancy averages 74 years. Compare that to parts of King County that are least impacted by those same factors, such as around Sammamish, where the average resident lives 87 years.
Communities of color are disproportionately left behind in other ways:
• On-time high school graduation rates are lower for most minority students. About 55 percent of Native American seniors graduate on time, followed by 63 percent of Latinos, about 65 percent of African Americans and Pacific Islanders, and about 79 percent of mixed-race students. Their white and Asian peers graduate at higher rates of about 85 and 84 percent, respectively.
• Those same minority groups, with the exception of Asians, also experienced higher-than-average unemployment rates between 2010 and 2012.
• Black households earn the lowest average annual income — $38,700, compared to the county household average of $71,175.
Improving these dismal figures requires systemic changes. The Legislature can start with smart investments in early childhood and public-education programs that increase accountability and deliver results.
A consortium of Seattle and South King County schools participating in the Road Map Project is an example of how bureaucrats can break down silos and work aggressively to improve academic achievement among nearly 121,000 students living in high-risk areas.
King County is wisely implementing new policies, from hiring practices that recruit more applicants from diverse backgrounds to forming private-public partnerships and engaging with limited-English speaking communities. Public-health workers have signed up thousands for health insurance under the federal Affordable Care Act. The county's comprehensive strategy in the works is expected to include ways to create more affordable housing supply near jobs and transit.
As Seattle’s cost of living rises, more low-income families are moving to cities such as Kent, Renton and SeaTac. According to analysis by the Brookings Institution, three in five poor county residents now live outside Seattle. However, the suburbs often lack resources to help them stay afloat.
Brookings reports federal funds are still largely funneled to urban centers. Policymakers should shift that money to areas of the county where people need services the most.
Ending disparities is not an easy resolution, but well worth the effort if King County is to remain a place where all can prosper.
Editorial board members are editorial page editor Kate Riley, Frank A. Blethen, Ryan Blethen, Mark Higgins, Jonathan Martin, Thanh Tan, Blanca Torres, Robert J. Vickers, William K. Blethen (emeritus) and Robert C. Blethen (emeritus).