What else can be done with Seattle's out-of-reach housing prices? Better transit and a willingness to relocate are critical.
I’ve written on consecutive Sundays about Seattle’s rising problem with housing affordability, the causes (and whether we’re in a classic bubble) and some potential responses, primarily in the city. To wrap up for now on this issue, here are two other important elements:
• The metropolitan area is not the Bay Area (yet). It has many affordable areas, especially in south King County and in Pierce County. What’s missing is enough transit, especially convenient, reliable rail transit, to move people from affordable homes and apartments to employment centers. Light rail and the Sounder commuter rail are a beginning, but not enough. Seattle has a way to go to catch up with metros such as Denver and Salt Lake City (even Portland) and needs to get moving.
• Not everybody can have a pony. I lived in San Diego in the early 1980s, working at a small, scrappy newspaper in the North County. Although I loved S.D., the low pay (“sunshine dollars”) barely covered my apartment in Ocean Beach and there was little chance to move to one of the big papers. So I accepted a job in Beaumont, Texas, at a larger newspaper for better pay in a much more affordable area. This launched a career that took me to some of the best newspapers in the country — and steadily rising income.
This also used to be the American way. People moved for work and opportunity.
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This has changed, however. According to a recent analysis by the Brookings Institution, the United States is experiencing “a clear, downward trend in labor market fluidity.” In other words, people are moving less to better their economic circumstances. And it’s arguably hurting the economy’s dynamism. The roots date back to the 1980s and no single factor explains the change, although the report wonders about falling job security and compensation, along with a decline in “social trust.”
In the study time frame, from 1980 to 2013, Washington was among the states that lost fluidity above the national average.
Meanwhile, some states are seeing a shrinking workforce with jobs presumably to be had. No doubt this is not the opportunity-filled America of the mid- and later-20th century. But unless people have moving-for-opportunity on their menu of responses, they may never get ahead. One person’s experience is limited, but by the late 1990s the big San Diego paper was recruiting me to be business editor. I turned it down. But without first leaving for better opportunity, I would never have reached the point where my old adopted hometown wanted me back.
Today’s Econ Haiku:
Just keep on truckin’
Until the EU smokeys
Break up your convoy