WITH some of the world’s most profitable companies and generous philanthropists, a veneer of affluence in the Seattle area distracts from the stark realities of poverty and its consequences throughout King County.
Just look at some of the disparities revealed in the 2013 Equity and Social Justice Annual Report, a key aspect of King County’s strategy to promote fairness:
• Median household income between the county’s 10 wealthiest ZIP codes and the 10 poorest ZIP codes differs by more than $100,000.
• Residents self-segregate. The 10 most racially diverse ZIP codes are about 70 percent minority and the 10 least-diverse are 90 percent white.
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• Adults in Des Moines are seven to eight times more likely to lack health insurance than adults in Mercer Island or Sammamish.
• Life expectancy differs by as much as 10 years countywide. For instance, this gap is seen between Mercer Island (85.9 years) and South Auburn (76.8 years). That South Auburn life expectancy is lower than 72 countries and the average U.S. life expectancy rate of 78.6 years.
• Students in South King County have lower on-time graduation rates, especially among African-Americans, Latinos, American Indians and Pacific Islanders.
King County leaders and public-health officials deserve credit for exposing and tracking these chronic inequities.
How can these gaps be closed?
Start by investing attention and better coordinating existing resources in places where data indicate the greatest need for workforce training, affordable housing, transportation and early education.
Government alone cannot solve the problem. It needs nonprofits, community-based organizations, individuals — and perhaps more of those profitable companies and generous philanthropists — to stand up and engage in restoring health and economic balance throughout King County.
As disparities persist, families get trapped in a cycle of poverty that can extend to future generations. Communities pay the price when crime and demand for social services endure.
Children deserve their futures to be determined by rich opportunity, not the color of their skin or address.
A region with more than a veneer of prosperity can do better.