New report describes inequity across King County, data to be used to direct change

Issues, hardships stymie healthy communities. Last week, King County Executive Dow Constantine called for a community-wide effort to make the county a place where everyone has access to opportunities.

Last week, King County Executive Dow Constantine called for a community-wide effort to make King County a place where everyone has access to opportunities and the ability to reach their full potential, upon release of a first-of-its-kind report that reveals inequities of place, race and income across the county.

“It’s a basic American ideal that personal success should be based upon merit — talent, drive, determination — not upon race, or class, or ZIP code,” said Constantine. “Our economy depends on everyone being able to contribute, and we must remove the barriers that artificially limit the ability of some to fulfill their potential. Only when all can fully participate can we have true prosperity.”

The first annual report of King County Equity and Social Justice shows that King County is increasingly diverse, with a non-white population that has grown from 13 percent in 1980 to 35 percent in the 2010 census. That trend is expected to continue, as nearly half of all county residents under 18 are non-white. More than 100 languages are spoken in King County, and 11 percent of those over age 5 have limited English proficiency.

“The results of the report make it painfully clear that the lives of far too many people in our county continue to be impacted by systemic inequities,” said Council Chair Larry Gossett.

“Over the last decade, the diversity in our district’s student population has increased dramatically, with a doubling of students from low-income families and a five-fold increase in English-language learners,” said Dr. Kip Herren, Auburn Schools Superintendent. “Reducing inequities would provide all of our students with an equal chance to reach their full potential and succeed academically.”

The report highlights the 14 determinants of equity — the conditions in which county residents are born, grow, live, work, and their age — and baseline markers to assess progress and areas for improvement in creating a fair and just society. The report includes maps and other statistics that reveal inequities across King County by place, race and income, and the factors that contribute to opportunity and quality of life, for example:

Life expectancy varies from a high of 86 years in one neighborhood to a low of 77 years in another — a difference of nine years.

South King County and south Seattle have the greatest concentration of households below the median household income. In 2010, African-American and Native American households earned just over half of the median income of white households.

The largest decline in home values has occurred in South King County communities, low-income areas and more racially diverse communities.

The incarceration rate for African-Americans in King County is roughly eight times the rate of incarceration for whites.

Food hardship has increased by half since 2007 in King County and varies significantly by race. Nearly two in five Latino adults and more than one in five African-American adults report food hardship.

And there is more: housing, health, accessibility of services and jobs, education and communication are all essential to bringing opportunity to all.

“The only way to attain and maintain a healthy population is to shrink the inequitable and devastating economic disparity that far too often inhibits all that can be great about our communities,” said Dan Dixon, Vice President for External Affairs at Swedish Health Services.

The report also highlights King County’s efforts to promote fair and just conditions for all through the siting and delivering of services; policy development and decision making; education and communication within county government; and community engagement and partnerships.

The budget office held all agencies accountable for considering equity impacts in their 2012 budgets and business plans.

Metro Transit included social equity as one of three criteria in its new Transit Strategic Plan, which determines how transit services are allocated in King County.

King County Elections expanded voter registration and education outreach activities through partnerships with ethnic communities and other underserved populations.

“The business community thrives when the whole community is healthy,” said Maud Daudon, president and CEO of the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce. “We share King County’s goal of equal access, and as the region’s independent business association, are actively working to grow what we call ‘sustainable jobs.’ These are jobs that improve social justice, improve the environment and improve the bottom line.”

“The City of Seattle is actively working to achieve racial equity through our Race and Social Justice Initiative,” said Julie Nelson, director of the Seattle Office for Civil Rights, which coordinates Seattle’s Initiative. “King County is a key partner in working for social justice throughout our region, and we look forward to our ongoing collaboration to eliminate inequity in our communities.”

The Metropolitan King County Council adopted legislation in 2010 integrating the principles and practices of equity and social justice into all agencies and branches of county government. The ordinance establishes definitions and directs implementation steps related to the “fair and just” principle of the King County Strategic Plan that guides all county activities and functions.

Executive Constantine presented Equity and Social Justice at the Place Matters conference last fall in Washington, D.C., as part of a national initiative by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies to address inequities.

“An intentional focus on equity, as King County demonstrates in this report, is essential to make sure that all communities in the region are communities of opportunity,” said Heidi Hall, Equity Network Manager at Impact Capital, a nonprofit that helps build and sustain vibrant neighborhoods in underserved communities throughout the state. “Community organizations and equity advocates are leveraging our collective resources to ensure that growth and development benefits low-income communities, communities of color, and limited-English residents. Together we can reverse the disparities outlined in the report.”

“This report and the work behind it demonstrate the power of public sector leadership in helping transform this nation from one of the most racially and economically unequal, to one with greater equity,” said Dr. Gail Christopher, Vice President of Program Strategy for the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, which supports vulnerable children, families and communities. “We applaud King County residents and leaders and encourage wide dissemination and replication of this important work.”

“King County’s work to advance equity and social justice provides an inspirational model for communities around the country,” said Dr. Brian Smedley, Vice President and Director of the Health Policy Institute at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies in Washington, D.C. “The first annual report is a vital step toward raising awareness of inequities and building a more equitable and healthy county for all of its residents. By its actions, the county and its leaders, particularly Executive Dow Constantine, are making real the dream of Dr. King. There is perhaps no more fitting tribute to the county’s namesake.”

The first annual report of King County Equity and Social Justice can be viewed at