Zooming In On Neighborhood Inequality

– by county, city, and ZIP code

Recent reports paint very different pictures of health and wellbeing in King County. According to the 2016 County Health Rankings, King County is the 2nd healthiest county in Washington (San Juan County is 1st).  Looking for details behind the promising headline, however, King County’s 2016 City Health Profiles reveal deep disparities.  For example, 5% of Sammamish residents report that their health is “fair” or “poor,” compared to 23% in Burien – almost a 5-fold difference.  Similarly, average life expectancy ranges from 76.3 years in South Auburn to 86.2 years in Northeast Seattle.  Across 26 King County cities, wide disparities for everything from obesity and teen births to diabetes- and Alzheimer’s-related deaths are the norm, not the exception.

But these disparities do not occur in isolation. They develop in communities, often over generations, in a context of economic inequality. A new interactive tool, the Distressed Communities Index , enables users to zoom all the way down to ZIP codes in assessing key components of economic distress.  As shown in recent Communities Count updates on foodhousing, and income, recovery from the Great Recession has been uneven at best.  Offering a closer look at economic inequality, the Distressed Communities Index is based on 7 complementary measures:

  • Adults (25 and older) without a high school degree

  • Housing vacancy rate

  • Adults (16 and older) not working

  • Poverty rate

  • Ratio of an area’s median income to its state’s median income

  • Percent change in jobs from 2010 to 2013

  • Percent change in number of businesses from 2010 to 2013

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In the Auburn area, one of King County’s most distressed ZIP codes, 98002, is flanked by more prosperous neighbors – 98092 to the east and 98001 to the west.  The distress score of 80.8 indicates that ZIP code 98002 is more economically distressed than 80.8 percent of 26,000+ ZIP codes nationwide.  The much lower distress scores of nearby ZIP codes (see table) reveal that these next-door neighbors, although spatially close, are economically far apart.

Almost 1 in 5 adults in the central Auburn ZIP code (98002) do not have a high school diploma, more than double the rates of its immediate neighbors.  Similarly, the poverty rate in ZIP code 98002 (26%) is more than double the rates in adjacent ZIP codes.  Elsewhere in King County, distress scores are as low as 0.7 (ZIP code 98065) in Snoqualmie and as high as 93.3 (ZIP code 98134) in the SoDo/Harbor-Island/Duwamish industrial area south of downtown Seattle.

Offering a new way to look at “spatial inequality,” this tool could prove useful to regional projects focusing their efforts on discrete geographical areas.