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Seattle affordability, minimum wage, Self-sufficiency
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Puget Sound region has a ‘growing problem’ within its economy

Seattle approved a move to a $15 minimum wage in 2014. The benefits of that change are still in dispute. (AP)
LISTEN: Puget Sound region has a 'growing problem' within its economy

University of Washington’s Diana Pearce is warning Seattle that it is heading for a harsh economic bite. She says the city is in the midst of alligator economics.

“If you can imagine a graph where wages are going up very, very slightly, and expenses are going up larger,” she said. “That’s like the alligator jaws, getting wider and wider and wider … The crunch is going to get worse. Unless we do something, I think it can be very problematic; we will have a more unequal society.”

RELATED: Where Seattle’s population boom has come from

Pearce is the director of the Center for Women’s Welfare at the University of Washington. She helped produce a recent self-sufficient standard for the Workforce Development Council of Seattle-King County.

“It measures how much you need to meet your basic needs; just your basics — housing, food, childcare, healthcare, paying your taxes — at a minimally adequate level without any assistance,” she said.

That means nothing from the government or generous parents or grandparents.

The study determined what it takes to be financially stable in different areas of Washington state. Pearce says it illustrates a “growing problem” in the Puget Sound region.


Instead of producing a basic figure for the entire state, or even one county, the self-sufficiency standard provides varying measures for different areas of Washington. It also breaks down by family type; from one adult with a preschooler, to two adults with school-aged children.

For example, an adult with a preschooler in King and Snohomish counties would need to earn more than $25 an hour to meet the very basics of living. In Pierce County, it’s between $21-24.99. And in Kitsap, Skagit, Thurston or Kittitas Counties, a person must earn $19-20.99.

Another example, take a family with two adults, one preschooler, and one school-aged child. They would have to earn:

  • Seattle: $75,616
  • East King County: $83,778

“It’s a little bit more in East King County because in Seattle we can use public transportation and few costs are more expensive in East King County,” Pearce said, noting that it’s slightly more expensive in Snohomish County for the same reasons.

“The difference is the public transportation,” she said. “You can’t get to and from work dependably in Snohomish with public transportation. So you have a car, and with two adults you need two cars. That adds a bit more.”

Pearce says the report is important because government standards often do not consider many real costs. The federal poverty standard, she said, is out of date.

Looking at the state, a family would have to earn $53,543 to live. That means earners would have to work 92 hours a week. The current minimum wage would only get them $28,040 a year. The federal poverty line is set at $20,420.

Agencies can use the self-sufficiency standard to help with unemployment and other services. Employers can use it to better situate their employees. And policymakers can use it to address the region’s “growing problem” of economic inequality amid an economic boom.

Looking at the study, Pearce said that Seattle’s move to a $15 minimum wage is clearly not enough. By the time the city completely phases in the new wage, it will be out of date.

“It’s not enough,” she said. “That couple in Seattle with two kids needs well over that, more like $17.90 an hour now … (expenses) continue to go up faster than people’s wages are going up.”

You can view the full Self-Sufficiency Standard report here.

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