Child poverty moves south from Seattle

Twenty years ago, 1 in 5 Seattle children aged 5-17 years old (>12,000) lived in poverty. Poverty among school-aged Seattle children peaked in 1997 – 13 to 16 years before all school districts in the county experienced recession-linked surges in student poverty.  By the “post-recession” year of 2016, the picture had changed dramatically, according to data prepared by the Census Bureau’s Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates (SAIPE).

The rates and numbers of school-aged children living in poverty have continued to decline in Seattle, and have returned to pre-recession levels in many King County school districts.  But the overall number has increased – from 28,971 in 1997 to 31,259 in 2016 – with most of the increase coming from a cluster of South Region districts that are accommodating the county’s re-distribution of poverty.

On one end of the see-saw, Seattle’s share of the county’s low-income children dropped from 42% in 1997 to 21% in 2016.  On the other end, the South Region school districts of Auburn, Federal Way, Highline, Kent, Renton, and Tukwila, which together contributed only 39% of school-aged poverty in 1997, are now responsible for educating 55% of the county’s students living in poverty.  All 6 districts have double-digit rates of student poverty, from 13% in Kent to 29% in Tukwila.  And none have returned to pre-recession levels of school-aged poverty.

Given the stratospheric rise in Seattle housing costs, it seems likely that child poverty in Seattle schools has declined (down to 10%, from a high of 19%) because poor families couldn’t afford to stay.  Families – and school districts – in Seattle and many East Region cities benefit from the region’s strong economic recovery. In future blogs, we will look school funding, health, and academic progress to see how South Region school districts are coping with an influx of children whose families aren’t doing as well economically.

See recent updates by school district to Communities Count education indicators and Best Starts for Kids indicators.

Fewer Veterans Homeless at New Year

In the final weeks of 2015, National Public Radio (NPR) reviewed the nation’s progress toward President Obama’s goal of ending homelessness among U.S. veterans by the end of 2015.  As reported in that series and aired on KUOW, King County is one of many regions that have fallen short of the goal.

According to a report that aired on December 28th, King County’s “booming economy” poses a major barrier to housing veterans:  even with government assistance, many veterans can’t afford local rents.  In addition, veterans with rental vouchers can’t always find landlords willing to accept them.  As reported in a Q13FOX News broadcast, 310 King County veterans were in this position shortly before Thanksgiving – with rental voucher in hand but no place to use it.

While not 100% successful at ending homelessness among veterans, King County housed more than 800 homeless veterans in 2015, according to NPR. This success is in part due to adoption of the “housing first” strategy, a proven “no-strings-attached” approach that gets people into stable housing as soon as possible without insisting that they first solve the problems that may have contributed to their becoming homeless.   Addressing the other problems – which can be linked to trauma, chronic pain, substance abuse, and mental illness – is challenging under any circumstances.  But it has to be easier when you have a place to call home.

Communities Count has recently updated housing data, including charts on the percentages and numbers of affordable rental units in 27 King County cities.

Young adults keep renting, not buying

Seattle Times number-cruncher Gene Balk recently reported that young adults age 25-34, until recently eager to become homeowners, are passing on the opportunity.   Balk’s compelling charts show that in King County:

  • Homeownership for this age group dropped from 50% in 1980 to 25% in 2013.
  • More dramatically, after homeownership for median-income married couples age 25-34 stayed close to 80% from 1980 to 2007, it fell to only 50% in 2013.

While this trend can be seen across the county, “the rate of the decline here has been more than twice as fast as the national average.”

Possible reasons cited for the trend include:

  • Expensive real estate, which is especially unaffordable for young people just starting careers.
  • Delay of marriage (which is often paired with buying a home):  53% of King County’s 25- to 34-year olds have never been married compared to 27% in 1980.
  • College debt – a 5-fold increase nationally – which can severely limit the ability to save for a down payment and qualify for a mortgage.
  • Shifting attitudes towards homeownership, due in part to post-recession wariness, plus an appreciation of the flexibility and freedom from responsibility enjoyed by renters.

For more information on housing in King County, see recent Communities Count updates on:

Additional housing updates will be posted in the coming weeks.