La La Land on economic equality

Yale University researchers recently revealed a striking mismatch between perceptions of inequality and actual inequality.  Asked to estimate progress toward black-white economic equality, participants in several studies consistently overestimated racial equality for annual income, wealth, employee benefits, and hourly wages.  “The headline finding,” according to City Observatory, “is that the average respondent thinks that black wealth is about 80 percent that of whites; whereas Census data suggest that black wealth is about 5 percent that of whites.”

As reported by The New York Times, the study’s authors attribute these overestimates of racial economic equality to several factors:  continued economic and racial segregation, unconscious denial of a reality that doesn’t fit our idealized version of a fair democracy, and overgeneralization from other signs of progress toward racial equality (such as passage of civil rights laws and election of a black president). Blacks and whites alike overestimated economic equality, but estimates made by wealthy whites were furthest from the mark.

Although the Yale researchers didn’t collect data on geographic differences in perceptions of racial inequality, we can compare racial economic inequality in King County to national figures.  While the national black/white income gap is substantial ($22,794 in 2016, according to the American Community Survey), it pales in comparison to King County’s whopping 2016 disparity of $45,733.

And the disparity in King County has gotten worse.  Nationally, from 2006 to 2016 median household income grew by about 19% for blacks and for whites, preserving a consistent (and large) racial gap: at both times blacks earned $63 for every $100 earned by whites.  Over the same period in King County, black median income grew by 20%, lagging considerably behind the 36% growth of white median income.  While in 2006 King County blacks earned $56 for every $100 earned by whites, by 2016 the gap had widened, with King County blacks earning only $50 for every $100 earned by whites.

Many King County residents support the goal of achieving economic security for all.  Before we can do that, however, we first need to acknowledge our increasing racial disparities in the face of explosive economic growth.  Only then will we be able to rationally make policy choices that will move our region toward greater equity.

Communities Count has just updated King County data on income by race/ethnicity, and also presents recent national wealth trends by race/ethnicity and national black/white wealth trends for the cohort born between 1943 and 1951 (in their 30s, the mean wealth of whites in this cohort exceeded the wealth of blacks by less than $150,000; by the time they reached their 60s, the difference had grown to more than $1 million).  Other data on economic inequality can be found in a data spotlight, The rising fortunes of the top 1%, and charts on wealth trends by income tier.

Food crisis for seniors?

Concerns about hunger in King County have primarily focused on families with children.  Since the Great Recession, however, the need for food assistance among King County seniors has increased dramatically.

Food bank visits by seniors rose as visits by younger residents declined.

In 2016, for example, adult age 55 and older accounted for almost 1 in 3 food bank visits, up from 1 in 5 in 2010.  In the time period, the number of food bank visits decreased for all age groups except seniors, for whom the numbers of both new and returning clients increased.

The jump in use of food banks among King County seniors was paralleled by an increase in participation in Washington’s Basic Food program (formerly known as food stamps), which grew from 17,931 King County residents age 65+ in 2010 (9% of the 65+ population) to 28,426 (12%) in 2016.

Basic Food participation among seniors has increased in all major King County cities.

Increases have been especially steep in Tukwila, where 30% of seniors age 65+ participated in Basic Food in 2016.  Sharp increases have also occurred in the South Region cities of Kent, Seatac, Federal Way, Renton, Burien, and Auburn, with participation rates ranging from 15% to 22%.   All major cities in King County have experienced participation increases among seniors.  For other age groups, use of Basic Food peaked between 2012 and 2013 and has declined thereafter.

This trend isn’t just about food.  Steep increases in the cost of living in the Puget Sound region have exacerbated our homelessness problem, and can be difficult to afford on a fixed income.   It’s easy to understand why seniors might go without food or medication to keep a roof over their heads.  Even in times of economic expansion, food benefits may become increasingly important for the older members of our communities.

For more information, see Communities Count data on Basic Food, food hardship, and food bank trends, plus a link to an interactive map of food bank locations.

Data training to improve public grant-making

For the past two years, Communities Count has worked with local governments and philanthropies to develop data trainings that will help public agencies understand community needs and fund strong programs to address them.

Looking to East King County

Revealing barriers to nonprofit grant applicants’ success

In early 2015, graduate students from the University of Washington’s Community-Oriented Public Health Practice MPH program analyzed applications that did and did not receive funding from Communities of Opportunity, a regional initiative to stem the tide of increasing racial and geographic disparities in health outcomes. They found that the probability of receiving funding was closely linked to applicants’ ability to use data in proposals: While all funded applications had used data effectively, only 41 percent of unfunded applications had done so. Some of the unfunded proposals might have offered innovative programs or responses to emerging needs in the community but, according to the students’ report, “they were unable to articulate their need or link the data they provided to the actual project.”

From this analysis, Communities Count recognized that building stronger data capacity among service organizations could improve the quality of the applicant pool and the selection process. As part of their project with Communities Count, the students contacted organizations that had been turned down for funding to solicit suggestions of topics they would want to learn about in a data workshop.

Discovering the popularity of data training

Ideas from these interviews guided the development of Communities Count’s first training, which focused on using data to tell a story that supports an organization’s case for funding. Designed with the participants’ needs in mind, the workshop was:

  • Small — limited to 30 participants;
  • Accessible — held in a community venue in a low-income area of South Seattle that was easy to reach by transit, car, and bike;
  • Interactive — with hands-on exercises, plus lots of time for questions.

The workshop filled up quickly with staff from a wide variety of community-based organizations, government, and philanthropy. In the month after training, Communities Count also offered follow-up support through customized technical assistance. Participants reported that both the training and the technical assistance were valuable, and said they would attend additional sessions if they were offered.

A long waiting list for the first offering and requests for more workshops confirmed an unmet need for training. Over the next several months, Human Services departments from cities in South, East, and North regions pooled their resources to partially support two large data trainings – each filled to capacity with waiting lists.

Moving upstream in the grant-making process

These trainings — primarily for nonprofits serving King County cities outside Seattle – took place several weeks before the application deadlines for Community Development Block Grants (CDBGs) and other city funding. To ensure the trainings were aligned with the criteria by which applications would be judged, Communities Count consulted with city staff who would be rating the applications and customized the curriculum to meet their needs. Held at locations in South and East regions, the workshops drew more than 200 participants and received enthusiastic ratings. A review of the subsequent applications found that many cited data sources included in the trainings.

Communities Count’s latest efforts center on trainings for Best Starts for Kids (BSK), a voter-approved community initiative to “improve the health and well-being of King County by investing in prevention and early intervention for children, youth, families, and communities.” As with the cities, Communities Count coordinates with BSK staff who write the Requests for Proposals (RFPs) to make sure the trainings align with the goals and evaluation criteria of each team. The trainings are offered in a variety of settings, including bidders’ conferences and webinars.

Learning from the process 

Communities Count has discovered an exciting thirst for learning about data – each workshop has been full and spurred demand for additional and sometimes more advanced sessions. For example, community groups increasingly want to “own” their data and have expressed interest in conducting household surveys, crowd-sourcing data, and analyzing data. While trying to tailor sessions to the needs of each audience, workshop leaders grapple with the tradeoffs between smaller interactive, hands-on workshops and larger, lecture-based classes that accommodate the growing demand for improved data literacy.

Communities Count also recognizes the importance of aligning and training both sides – the groups applying for funding and the staff rating the grant proposals. As funders become more intentional and clearer about what they want to see in applications – with themselves and in their RFPs – they make it easier for applicants to comply and are more likely to adhere to their stated criteria when evaluating applications. Communities Count has a continuing role to play in helping program staff communicate clearly and consistently about application requirements and in helping nonprofits build a compelling case for the services they provide. This should boost both the quality and the clarity of the information used in deciding how to invest public dollars to improve community health, educate our children, and revitalize our neighborhoods.

This blog was co-written by Kathy Pettit, Director of the National Neighborhood Indicators Partnership (NNIP) and Louise Carter of Communities Count.  A longer version will be posted by the Microsoft Technology and Civic Engagement Group, which partners with NNIP to expand training on data and technology on behalf of communities.

Homelessness: 2nd annual media blitz

A year ago, more than 30 Seattle media outlets joined a coordinated media response to the region’s homelessness crisis.  Despite sincere and sometimes successful efforts by city and county governments, local businesses and philanthropies, and community-based organizations, homelessness in King County still qualifies as a crisis.

In January, the one-night count of sheltered plus unsheltered homeless in King County was 11,643, generating the local headline, “A city the size of Woodinville is sleeping in our streets.”  But the annual count used a new method in 2017, so that number can’t validly be compared to previous results.

We have another source of data, though. School districts in Washington are required to “track their homeless students and report that data annually to OSPI” (Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction), which in turn reports to the state legislature.  Communities Count has compiled these data for King County school districts going back to the 2007-2008 school year.  By 2015-2016, student homelessness statewide had ballooned to 39,671 – a 52% increase in just 5 years. Over the same period, student homelessness in King County almost doubled — from 4,423 in 2010-11 to 8,411 in 2015-2016 (see chart). Of the 19 school districts in King County, the number of homeless students declined in only 2 (see school district trends).  Washington schools use the U.S. Department of Education’s definition of student homelessness, explained in detail here.

Options for monitoring national and local media coverage of homelessness on June 28th include a national conversation curated by CityLab, Crosscut’s social media pages (Facebook and Twitter), and hashtag #500kHomeless.

 

Migration stories

While Communities Count presents a lot of data about disparities, we often miss opportunities to look at the historical and cultural underpinnings of those disparities. Fortunately, exhibitions at three Seattle museums create artistic contexts within which we can explore – without charts and numbers – how we got to where we are. Understanding our history may help us make informed decisions about the future.

What is it like to leave home, family, friends – everything you’ve ever known – and start over in a new place? And what if the people in that new place don’t really welcome you? These questions come to mind as people around the globe are searching for places to start over – places where they will feel safe and secure, and perhaps build a better future for themselves and their children. The questions also resonate with the history of our country. Through April 23rd, a Seattle Art Museum (SAM) exhibit, Jacob Lawrence: The Migration Series, offers an opportunity for us to learn about that history by chronicling, through pictures and words, the 20th century relocation of millions of African Americans from the American South to industrial cities in the North.

The Migration Series, Panel 18: The migration gained in momentum., 1940–41, Jacob Lawrence, American, 1917–2000, casein tempera on hardboard, 18 x 12 in., Gift of Mrs. David M. Levy, The Museum of Modern Art, © The Museum of Modern Art/Licensed by SCALA / Art Resource, NY, © 2016 The Jacob and Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence Foundation, Seattle / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Lawrence told his story in 60 bold images – painted on hardboard panels in 1940 and 1941 – each with a brief, eloquent caption. For example,
• Panel 3: “From every southern town migrants left by the hundreds to travel north.”
• Panel 49: “They found discrimination in the North. It was a different kind.”
• Panel 58: “In the North the African American had more educational opportunities.”

To complement the exhibit, the museum lined up more than 20 special programs and community events. Two distinguished guests, who spoke at full-house performances, deepened the context for understanding this massive migration:
• Pulitzer-Prize winning author Isabel Wilkerson discussed her landmark book, The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration, a 15-year project for which she interviewed 1,200 people.
• United States Representative John Lewis shared personal stories about nonviolent activism during the Civil Rights era. He was accompanied by writer Andrew Aydin and artist Nate Powell, who collaborated with him on the graphic novel trilogy, MARCH, which won the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature.

In their lives and work, Lawrence, Wilkerson, and Lewis have reached new audiences with well-documented but untold stories that hadn’t made it into the textbooks. Explaining his motivation for a 31-painting series about Underground Railroad leader Harriet Tubman, Lawrence said in a 1968 oral history, “We hear about Molly Pitcher. We hear about Betsy Ross…. [but] the Negro woman has never been included in American history.” Thanks in part to Lawrence, some of the gaps have been filled. But we’re still catching up. From the Seattle Art Museum, “To this day we have barely understood the full impact of this movement that was driven not by one single leader, but by six million Americans seeking political asylum in their own country. This migration reshaped culture and politics, North and South, and set in motion the current racial challenges and disparities we now face as a country.”

What about our region?

During SAM’s Migration Series exhibit, exhibitions at two other Seattle museums offer local perspectives on themes of migration and displacement:
• At the Northwest African American Museum, An Elegant Utility (through May 28th) features photographs, household belongings, and other artifacts of artist Inye Wokoma’s family to explore the broader story of African-Americans in Seattle.
• In Year of Remembrance: Glimpses of a Forever Foreigner (through Feb 11th, 2018), the Wing-Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience brings together poems by Lawrence Matsuda and artwork by Roger Shimomura to recognize the incarceration of 120,000 Japanese and Japanese Americans during WWII, and to relate this to current events.

Upcoming events at Seattle Art Museum (all free and open to the public) include:
• Thu Apr 6, 6:30–7 pm, Migration Stories: community members share personal stories of migration, immigration, place, and home.
• Thu Apr 6, 6:30-8:30 pm, The Migration Series: free drop-in art-making session led by artist Eve Sanford.
• Wed Apr 12, 7-9 pm, Complex Exchange (Part 2 of 2) 7–9 pm, Seattle Art Museum and Northwest African American Museum’s recurring series Complex Exchange pairs Seattle community members from a variety of disciplines in conversations to tackle themes inspired by an exhibition. The April 12 event will focus on Jacob Lawrence: The Migration Series.