Seattle’s economy is booming, and it is one of the fastest growing cities in America. But at what cost?
Despite Seattle’s progressive reputation, the city’s rising inequality, rapid gentrification, and disintegrating middle class are troublesome reminders of what happens when economic growth goes unchecked and when governments fail to produce policies that put people first.
The changes to Seattle, particularly in the South Lake Union and Capitol Hill neighborhoods, have been visible over the last few years. Capitol Hill retains some of its originality, including its well-known gay bars and unique restaurants. But its close vicinity to downtown has pushed out many long-time residents to make room for high-rent apartments and high-end businesses including a Ferrari dealership.
Seattle’s $15 an hour minimum wage may be a start – but the groups of homeless people visible throughout the city, from downtown to the University District and even in Greenlake show that inequality and affordability should be prioritized by local and state government. The noticeable increase in the homeless population indicates that this is a growing problem.
The $15 an hour minimum wage may be more than twice the amount federally mandated, but it can’t make up for Washington state’s regressive tax system.
According to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, Washington’s tax system is the most regressive in the country. Democratic Senator Pramila Jayapal says, “Today, the bottom 20 percent of income earners pay about 17 percent of their income in taxes while the top 1 percent pays about 2.7 percent. That just doesn’t give working people a fair shake at opportunity.” What’s more, all of the income growth in Washington between 2009 and 2012 accrued to the top 1%.
Clearly, the economic boom Seattle has experienced and that is praised by so many isn’t benefitting the rest of us. And while self-described “zillionaire” Nick Hanauer’s ideology on the issue is not a perfect solution (it still relies on the idea of economic growth to solve our problems),” he makes some excellent points on the subject of inequality in Seattle. “The last thing you want to do is impoverish people and concentrate ever more capital in fewer and fewer hands, ” he says, which is rare talk among those who benefit most from the system. Hanauer also says he supports an even higher minimum wage, at $16 an hour.
Hanauer told The Guardian,
“Many business owners have an ‘econo-erotic fantasy’, imagining that even if they aren’t paying their employees enough to buy goods and services from other firms, those firms are. The claim “that if wages go up, employment will go down – this is as stupid as claiming that if plants grow, animals will shrink.”
Inequality is not going to solve itself – and a $15 an hour minimum wage isn’t a catchall either. It will take work at all levels to educate people and to make lasting changes to the neoliberal hegemony that is at the root of the issue.