The Seattle region is on the verge of a major shift. As King County’s COVID-19 vaccination rate climbs above 70%, businesses are reopening, workers are returning to the office and life is inching back toward normal.
The sense of relief is palpable. Before we fully exhale, however, we must take a moment to reflect on the persistent inequities that led to higher case rates, hospitalizations and deaths among local Black, Indigenous and people of color communities. The events of the past 15 months have shown us that disparities surrounding race, gender and geography don’t just affect certain groups — they threaten our economy, undermine our democracy and tear at the fabric that holds our communities together.
The coming weeks and months present a once-in-a-generation opportunity to revisit our region’s values and priorities, to collaborate on a vision of the “normal” we want to achieve moving forward. Shared prosperity — the idea that we all do better when we all do better — must be central to the way Greater Seattle charts its path to recovery.
One place to start: the Scorecard for Shared Prosperity. The scorecard is a Civic Commons tool that works as a data-driven economic gauge for leaders within the private, philanthropic, government and community sectors. It tracks our collective progress using measurements like food insecurity rates, postsecondary education rates and the percentage of cost-burdened households.
The goal is simple: Create a fair system in which everyone has access to the opportunity and resources they need to thrive.
Even pre-pandemic, we had a lot of work to do. Affordable housing is a critical fault line in our region’s stability, one of many broken systems that created our current homelessness emergency and has allowed it to continue for nearly six years. When things are burning, it’s natural to want to put out the fire. At the same time, however, we must determine what sparked the blaze.
Homelessness is a downstream problem, and our scorecard identifies the root causes behind it. One example: the high percentage of cost-burdened households in our region. Cost-burdened households — those that spend more than 30% of their income on housing — often live paycheck to paycheck and are just one crisis away from ending up on the streets.
In the scorecard, we can also see that Black and Hispanic households are much more likely to be cost-burdened, meaning they spend more than 30% of their income on housing. In 2019, the overall percentage of cost-burdened households in King County was 36.8%, but for Hispanic households the rate was 44.5%. For Black households, it was an alarming 55.8%.
Another area of concern: consistent racial disparities in King County’s incarceration rates. The scorecard shows that Black and Indigenous people are 5.6 and 3.4 times more likely to be incarcerated than white people in our region.
These insights can help us prioritize how we design and implement programs related to affordable housing, criminal justice and education equity. The emerging strategies shouldn’t come from just one sector; we need a network where solutions are co-created with the communities most impacted.
The good news: The scorecard also includes bright spots. Among Hispanic people, for example, homeownership rates increased and the prevalence of adults with health concerns declined in the three years leading up to the pandemic. On-time high school graduation rates for Indigenous students also increased from 62.8% in 2017 to 69.5% in 2019. These positive signs should do more than simply encourage us; they ought to help us focus on approaches that could lead to improvement in other areas or within different communities.
This is a critical time in our region, and it requires leaders from all sectors to come together and collaborate to lift up the most vulnerable among us. Unless we gather the collective will to dig deeper, the underlying challenges — housing affordability, access to health care, economy equity — will persist and continue to flare up in times of crisis.
We now have the opportunity to build a region that’s stronger, more inclusive and more resilient than the one we had before. Let’s not waste our chance.