Research from The Equality of Opportunity Project found that Seattleites born in the bottom fifth of the income ladder have a 10.9% chance of reaching the top fifth of the ladder. That puts Seattle at number four in rankings for upward mobility among the 50 largest metropolitan areas. Further, the Puget Sound Business Journal reports Seattle has little income inequality and a strong middle class.
Yet, when we look statewide, the picture is a little less rosy. Washington currently ranks 16th on the Assets and Opportunity Scorecard. Not too bad, but we fall behind in a number of critical areas. We’re are less likely to be homeowners and are more likely to hold delinquent mortgage loans. We have a greater rate of uninsurance among low-income parents. Residents of the evergreen state also pay a greater proportion of medical expenses out of pocket and contribute a greater share in premiums for employer-based coverage. Average credit card debt is higher among Washingtonians, as is the rate of bankruptcy.
Further, research by the Pew Charitable Trusts found Washingtonians are more likely to be downwardly mobile than the national average, with nearly a third of residents falling down the income ladder. At the same time, all those high tech jobs that benefit Seattle are growing right alongside low-wage occupations, including home health aides and health technicians. Will Seattle stay middle class if job growth continues to become more concentrated at the extreme ends of the wage scale?
This trend is already negatively impacting Seattle’s working women, who earn just 73 cents to a man’s dollar – compared to the state average of 78 cents. As the state’s economy continues down the path of bifurcated growth – concentrated in both high- and low-wage sectors – this widening wage gap may spread. Rather than relying on high-wage sectors to keep our economy afloat, policymakers should instead be focusing on ensuring every job is a good job – one that provides a living wage, affordable health insurance, retirement contributions, and paid leave benefits. The economy will continue to cycle through ups and downs, but when workers and their families achieve economic security, they are better able to ride out the rough times – making the lows a little less low for us all.
For more analysis on economic mobility in Washington state, see EOI’s report: Chutes and Ladders: How economic mobility is changing in an inequality society.