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.

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.

 

Boom time in Seattle

We may not need an earthquake to get a feel for The Big One. A sampling of 2017 news articles (and accompanying data) suggests that the Emerald City is growing at such a breakneck pace that we can barely track it. And local residents, especially those with limited means, are increasingly unable to find affordable housing in this boom town. Some examples from local media:

According to Seattle Times’ FYI Guy, Gene Balk on May 25th:  From the middle of 2015 to the middle of 2016, Seattle’s population grew 3.1% — faster than any major U.S. city (defined as those with population greater than half a million).  At an estimated 704,400, Seattle is now bigger than Boston, Washington, D.C., and Denver.  According to the U.S. Census Bureau, other large, fast-growing cities in King County are Redmond (+3.2% to 62,500), Federal Way (+1.8% to 96,800), Bellevue (+1.3% to 141,400), and Burien (+1.2% to 51,000).  Renton, Auburn, Sammamish, Kent, and Kirkland also grew.

At the same time, according to the Seattle Times on May 30th, “Seattle housing market tops nation in bidding wars and price gains.” Over the past two months, about 90% of houses on the market ended up in bidding wars. And, according to the Northwest Multiple Listing Service, the April median price for a single family home in Seattle was an all-time high of $722,2500; on the Eastside it was $880,000.

And, despite the expectation that rent increases would slow in 2017 as thousands of new apartments went on the market, a March 27, 2017 Seattle Times headline queried, “After brief slowdown, Seattle-area rents surge back up again; when will it end?”

Finally, on the last day of May, Crosscut announced, “A city the size of Woodinville is sleeping in our streets.” That’s right. When the tally from King County’s annual count of unsheltered homeless was added to the number in shelters on the same night (January 27), the total came to 11,643. about the same as the U.S. Census Bureau‘s 2016 population estimate for Woodinville. A new counting method was used in 2017, so valid comparisons of the 2017 numbers to those of earlier years can’t really be made. But a homeless population the size of Woodinville is substantial, and 77% of those who responded to survey questions said they were living in King County when they became homeless. Not a big surprise in a place where record population growth is paired with skyrocketing prices for housing.

Policymakers, businesses, and philanthropists are working to provide more affordable housing for our growing population — with re-zoning, residential assistance, donations of space, and construction of “tiny houses.” So far, though, it’s been a losing battle.

Welcoming immigrants and refugees

In King County, 1 in 5 adults was not born in the U.S. In light of the President’s executive orders regarding federal immigration laws, many in our immigrant and refugee communities are uncertain about the extent to which local governments cooperate with federal immigration agents. Across the US, cities, counties, and states have declared themselves “sanctuary” jurisdictions. Seattle and King County prefer the term Welcoming City and Welcoming County, respectively, which, according to Seattle’s broad definition, means prioritizing “policies, actions, and practices that help immigrant and refugee communities succeed.”


Q. What’s an example of these “policies, actions, and practices”?

Although details differ, a “welcoming” designation generally signals that a government does not use jurisdictional time/resources to target residents on the basis of immigration status. In most cases, government employees (including police) will not ask residents about their immigration or citizenship status. While these “don’t ask” policies protect residents’ privacy, they also protect government employees, who cannot be compelled to disclose information they do not have. This restriction can be negated, however, by a court order, or by “reasonable suspicion” that a person has been previously deported and has committed a felony.

Q. What policies are followed at King County detention facilities?

King County limits compliance with federal immigration requests to hold prisoners beyond the time when they should legally be released. The County will only honor “detainer requests” that are accompanied by a criminal warrant issued by a federal judge or magistrate. This policy is consistent both with federal law and a 2014 King County ordinance.

Q: What is the intention of declaring status as a welcoming jurisdiction?

Backers of “welcoming” policies believe they make communities safer. Why? Because residents are more likely to report crimes, testify in court, and call for help when they need it if police are under orders not to ask about immigration status. In addition, welcoming jurisdictions want to assure people of different religions, races, and national origins that they are welcome and should continue to seek assistance at public health clinics and other government facilities.

Q. Do crime rates in these jurisdictions support the “safer communities” rationale?

Yes, according to a recent analysis of FBI crime reports. After controlling for population characteristics, sanctuary or welcoming cities averaged 35.5 fewer crimes per 10,000 population. These findings support the conclusion of the Major Cities Chiefs Association, representing the 68 largest law enforcement agencies in the country, that mixing local law enforcement with federal immigration enforcement “would result in increased crime against immigrants and in the broader community, create a class of silent victims and eliminate the potential for assistance from immigrants in solving crimes or preventing future terroristic acts.”

Q. How can immigrants get accurate information about their rights?

This week the King County Council approved $750,000 to support immigrant and refugee communities’ needs for legal assistance, information about their rights, and (in partnership with The Seattle Foundation) capacity-building of community-based organizations. In addition, the Seattle City Council unanimously passed an ordinance setting aside $1 million to create a legal defense fund for immigrants and refugees. Access to information about these and other resources is available through:
 Seattle’s Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs
Welcoming Immigrant and Refugee Communities (King County)
 The Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, which has a wealth of information on its website, including a new advisory for non-profit and social service organizations seeking to protect their clients.
 A hyperlinked list of (mostly) King County cities with ordinances, resolutions, and proclamations that they “promote safe, welcoming, and inclusive communities.”

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.