How Does Washington State Rank On Poverty?

The Center for American Progress released a report last month which ranks all fifty states based on indicators dealing with poverty and economic opportunity. These indicators include measures like poverty rates, the gender wage gap, and the percent of households dealing with hunger and food security.

According to the report, “these indicators help us better understand the areas in which the situation is improving for America’s struggling families – and those in which Washington must do more work to boost families’ well-being.”

See for yourself how Washington stacks up in regards to poverty and inequality:

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Those numbers are quite middling. To put Washington’s poverty rate in perspective, in 2014, the official poverty rate in the US was 14.8 percent (New Hampshire is ranked first with 9.2 percent of people living below the poverty line). So we’re just 1.6 percent below the national average – hardly a number which should satisfy any citizen or politician in this state.

Perhaps the most disturbing ranking in this report is Washington’s 42nd placing when it comes to affordable housing. The Evergreen state had “54 apartments or other units that were affordable and available for every 100 renter households with very low incomes in 2014.” To clarify, very low income households are defined in this study as “those with incomes at or below half of median income in the metropolitan or other area where they live.”

Poverty and affordable housing are issues which must become higher priorities in this state. That’s why it is good to see that Seattle Mayor Ed Murray and King County Executive Dow Constantine have declared a State of Emergency in response to the homeless crisis. Democratic members of the state legislature have also tried to solve this issue. Last month, Senate Democrats announced the “Bring Washington Home Act” which would “spend nearly $300 million on services and house for homeless people in Washington.”

While this bill may not have been perfect, the response from Republican leaders in our state illustrates why we still rank 19th in the country on poverty rates. According to Capitol Record,

Republican Sen. Mark Miloscia, Federal Way, said he agrees that homelessness is an emergency, citing several bills he’s involved in this session that address the issue. However, he says using the rainy day fund isn’t the way to approach it.

“We might as well just burn the $300 million on the Capitol steps,” he said.

Such rhetoric is pure political obstructionism and underscores the need for both parties to try and solve high levels of poverty within our state. One party is offering policy prescriptions while the other side sits on its hands. That’s not good enough. In order for our state to deal with a complex issue like poverty reduction, we must have all of our politicians dedicated to ameliorating the plight of its citizens. Until that day comes, Washington’s poverty rates will not get any better.

Nick Cassella

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