UW Today

October 9, 2015

UW summit highlights poverty, eroding middle class in state

News and Information

West Coast Poverty Center Director Jennifer Romich addresses the summit.

West Coast Poverty Center Director Jennifer Romich addresses the summit.University of Washington

Poverty rates in Washington dropped between 2013 and 2014 for the first time in six years, but many people are increasingly struggling to get by, particularly in Seattle.

Poverty in King County and around the state was the focus of the West Coast Poverty Center’s first annual summit Sept. 29. The University of Washington-based group brought together academics, social service providers and policymakers for half-day conference about poverty in the region.

The discussion highlighted the fact that while King County outperforms the country overall in various health and economic indicators, more residents are at the top or bottom of the wage scale and poverty rates remain troublingly high.

Among the findings presented:

  • Of the 85,000 new households in King County since 2000, almost all — 96 percent — are earning more than $125,000 or less than $35,000 annually.
  • In 2014, 14.4 percent of Seattle residents overall, 8.3 percent of families, 16.5 percent of children and 12.4 percent of seniors are living below the federal poverty level, according to an analysis by the Seattle Times.
  • The number of men aged 25 to 34 living below the poverty line in Seattle increased by 54 percent from 2013 to 2014, while the number of women aged 35 to 44 below the line increased 51 percent.
  • More 18- to 24-year olds — almost 23,000 — were living below the poverty line than any other age group in Seattle.
  • Median income for the three most common jobs in Washington — retail sales, cashiers and food service jobs — is below $24,000, not enough to meet basic needs.
  • More children of color are living in low-income households in Washington: 65 percent of Latino children, 60 percent of black children and 59 percent of American Indian and Alaska Native children, compared with 30 percent of white children.
  • Thirty percent of Washington single-parent families with two children are considered low-income, living on less than $39,580 annually.
  • More than 13 percent of single-parent, two-children families in Washington are living in poverty, making less than $19,790 a year, and nearly 6 percent live in deep poverty, existing on less than $9,895 annually.
  • A single parent with two children in Washington needs to make $57,595, almost three times the federal poverty level, to cover necessities such as housing, food, child care and transportation.

Lori Pfingst, research and policy director  at the Washington State Budget and Policy Center, said there’s a growing consensus among researchers that federal poverty standards are no longer an accurate gauge of what is required to cover basic needs.

“The question is, is that really the line that we should be moving people over? Is that really the goal we should be setting for our children and families?” she asked. “The answer is no. It is absolutely not enough for our children and families to be focused just on meeting the poverty line.”

Summit discussions focused on topics including Seattle’s $15 minimum wage, the shifting of poverty from inner cities to the suburbs, criminal justice and poverty, and how nonprofits can best gauge their effectiveness. Slide presentations from the summit are available on the West Coast Poverty Center website.