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King County: Affordable housing, living wage head latest report

Many aspects of living in King County have improved or remain unchanged in recent years, yet residents face serious challenges in terms of affordable housing, living wage incomes and transportation choices. In addition, more children live in poverty, and the gap between the rich and poor continues to grow, according to the new Communities Count 2008 Report released recently.

“We have made improvements in a number of areas of health and well-being, including a decrease in teen births, infant mortality and smoking rates,” said King County Executive Ron Sims. “However, it is unacceptable that not all communities are experiencing improvements, and there are areas where we have taken significant steps back. We must continue this important work.”

The Communities Count 2008 Report, produced every three years by public and private partner organizations, examines the trend in 38 indicators of well-being selected because of their importance to residents of King County.

“Today, foundations, donors and community members are seeking more information about areas of greatest need and opportunities to make a difference in the community,” said Phyllis Campbell, president and CEO of the Seattle Foundation. “The Communities Count report provides information that we can all use to better understand the opportunities and challenges we face.”

Communities Count 2008 provides special in-depth analysis of the trade-offs people in King County are making between housing and transportation and the consequences on quality of life. Families are being forced to move farther away from urban centers to afford housing. This increases their commute times and expenses and reduces the amount of time parents are able to spend with their children.

Lower and middle class families are having an increasingly difficult time making ends meet. Homeownership is taking a larger share of people’s income, with a gap of $205,500 between what someone making the median income can afford to pay ($249,500), versus the median home price of $455,000.

Since the last report in 2005, a number of indicators continue to decline:

• The gap between rich and poor continues to grow

• More children are living in poverty

• Fewer jobs pay a living wage

• People are less satisfied with their commute options; a majority of residents still drive alone to work

• The percentage of people who experience discrimination remains high

Some indicators show improvement: Infant mortality rates are down, though not for all communities equally; teen births are decreasing; smoking has declined among adults; violent crime has decreased significantly although domestic violence continues to be a major problem; people are active in community organizations; and urban parks and open spaces are steadily growing

“This report offers concrete data to help guide policymakers, nonprofits agencies and even donors to the areas of greatest need,” said Jon Fine, president and CEO of United Way of King County. “Especially given the current economic climate, we need to know that we are making the greatest possible impact in the community, and doing it as efficiently as possible. Communities Count is one tool United Way of King County uses to assure that we are doing that.”

Communities Count 2008 includes sections on basic needs, social well-being, positive development through life stages, safety and health, community strength, natural and built environment, and arts and culture. The report highlights inequities by region, income, education and race/ethnicity.

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