While it’s good news that the new Census reports show that the number of Washingtonians living in poverty declined between 2013 and 2014, the data still doesn’t tell the whole story. Far too many Washingtonians are struggling to make ends meet. And this is happening in a landscape in which the top income earners in our state continue to benefit the most from the economic recovery. Policymakers must make investments in an economy that works for all Washingtonians – one in which people who work for a living are able to get ahead, not just get by.
The newly released Census data for Washington state shows (see more in fact sheet below):
- More than one in eight people (13.2 percent) live below the poverty line. This is down from 14.1 percent in 2013. For a family of three, the poverty line is defined as earning less than $19,790 per year.
- Child poverty declined to 17.5 percent after remaining stagnant last year. The share of children under five living in poverty remained unchanged at 19 percent.
- Although median household income technically increased between 2013 and 2014, when adjusted for inflation and the rising cost of basic needs, median annual household income has actually declined by more than $2,000 since 2007.
(Click on graphic to view full fact sheet)
Washington state’s economy is stronger when everyone has the opportunity to prosper. Working people should not have to struggle to provide for their families while the wealthy keep getting richer. When workers are paid well, are able to take time off when they are sick, and have the peace of mind that their children are receiving quality child care, their economic well-being improves. Policies like raising the minimum wage, ensuring workers have paid sick and safe leave, and expanding access to quality early learning also help to level the playing field for communities of color and women who are least likely to have access to these resources.
Policymakers can and must take steps to ensure that all Washingtonians benefit from growth in our economy. They must also recognize that they can’t rest on their laurels because the poverty numbers appear to be going down. The big picture must always be front of mind. And the big picture is that what it actually takes for families in Washington to scrape by is much higher than the federal poverty line – which is $19,790 for a family of three (1).
Washington should be a state in which its people are thriving, and certainly not one in which so many are barely getting by.
1. Based on DSHS 2014 poverty guidelines for a family of 3.
Thanks to the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), 300,000 additional Washingtonians are now able to see a doctor when they need to. That’s equivalent to almost the entire population of the cities of Everett and Tacoma combined. This is according to a new U.S. Census report which shows an overall 5 percent increase in the number of people in our state who have obtained health coverage since 2013.
Washington state’s decision to embrace Medicaid expansion is a major reason for the increase in people covered, and it was an important step in the right direction for advancing the health of Washington’s residents.
Today, 91 percent of all Washingtonians, and 95 percent of children, are able to see a doctor, go to the hospital, or fill a prescription when they need to. Washington state mirrors the national trend, which showed a historic rise in the number of people with health care coverage.
The Census report contains the first data to show the initial impact – and clear success – of the expansion of health care coverage under the ACA. In fact, nationally, the 25 states (including the District of Columbia) that expanded Medicaid by the January 2014 deadline had much larger increases in health care coverage than states that did not expand the program.
Stay tuned as we continue to provide further details on health insurance trends in Washington state, as well as on new poverty and income data to be released by the U.S. Census.
When the Census releases new data next week about the poverty rates in our state, it is important to understand that the numbers don't tell the whole story. While the poverty rate is useful to track, the sad reality is that there are far more Washingtonians struggling to become economically secure than the numbers reflect.
In fact, as the interactive map shows below, the income required for people to barely scrape by is a lot higher than the income that is considered the poverty line. A family of three in Washington state needs to earn between $48,121 and $61,989 per year depending on where they live in order to afford the basic necessities – in other words, between two and three times the federal poverty line of $19,790 (1).
Click on or hover over the map below for more detailed information.
Indeed, despite improving employment numbers, many Washingtonians are still having difficulty putting food on the table or a roof over their head through no fault of their own (as last year's Census data demonstrated). So while the focus next week will be on poverty, policymakers should nevertheless focus on creating policies that focus on more than just the numbers reflected by the Census poverty line. They must find solutions that take into account what it really takes for families to make ends meet in our state.
Stay tuned to hear our take on the new numbers out next week and policies to support the economic security of all families in Washington state. And click here to learn more about the MIT Living Wage Calculator.
(1) Living wage and typical family expenses based on the MIT Living Wage Calculator
The Washington State Supreme Court stopped short of removing Initiative 1366 – a dangerous proposal that threatens funding for schools and other services average people rely on – from the November 2015 ballot.
Initiative 1366 would undercut democracy in our state by threatening lawmakers with billions of dollars in cuts to schools, health care, public safety, and other popular investments unless they pass a constitutional amendment giving a minority of legislators the power to overrule the majority in all state tax and budget decisions. The Court’s ruling means it’s up to voters to reject this damaging proposal at the polls later this year.
This proposal is the latest effort from Tim Eyman, who has a long history of promoting tax initiatives that benefit the richest families in Washington state at the expense of funding for education and other investments that benefit all Washingtonians.
The measure would reduce the state sales tax rate to 5.5 percent from 6.5 percent, eliminating $1.4 billion per year in tax revenues, unless policymakers do what Eyman and his ultra-wealthy backers want by passing a constitutional amendment requiring a two-thirds vote of the legislature to enact any state tax increase instead of the simple majority (50 percent plus one) required for most other legislative actions.
Voters’ decision on I-1366 will come at a crucial moment in Washington state history. In 2012, the State Supreme Court found that lawmakers have been underfunding public schools in Washington state for decades. Under the Court’s “McCleary ruling,” the legislature and the governor were ordered to increase spending on K-12 education by billions of dollars in order to ensure the state’s children receive the high-quality education they’ll need to compete in the 21st century economy. Complying with the Court’s order without doing irreparable damage to other critical investments like higher education, health care, and child care, will require policymakers to raise additional resources and modernize Washington’s 1930s-era tax system.
I-1366 threatens the state with just the opposite. The two-thirds “supermajority” vote on taxes sought by Eyman would make it virtually impossible to raise new resources for schools required by the State Supreme Court. Instead lawmakers would have to impose devastating cuts to other investments kids from struggling families need to be successful in the classroom, such as nutritious meals, mental health services, and safe housing.
Voters should reject I-1366 at the November ballot to send a clear signal that lawmakers should focus on building a prosperous future for all of Washington state’s kids.
Tim Eyman’s I-1366 is an attempt to blackmail Washington state into undercutting democracy. And a King County Superior Court judge has determined that I-1366 likely violates the state constitution, but stopped short of removing it from the November ballot.
The plaintiffs in the lawsuit against I-1366 seek to block the initiative from the ballot on the grounds that it would deny Washingtonians their right to a deliberative and well-thought-out process for amending the state constitution. They will appeal the decision to the Washington State Supreme Court, and they are confident the measure will ultimately be struck down.
I-1366 is Eyman’s latest attempt to revive a damaging law that gives a small minority of lawmakers veto power over all state revenue decisions. Amending the state constitution cannot be done through the initiative process, yet Eyman’s “2/3-For-Taxes Constitutional Amendment Initiative” seeks to do just that.
King County Superior Justice Dean S. Lum indicated that there's a good chance that I-1366 would eventually be overturned by the State Supreme Court. His opinion states that “although the ultimate decision is obviously the Supreme Court’s, there is a substantial possibility that I-1366 will be found to be invalid for exceeding the scope of the initiative process, and that voters will be voting on a measure which will never go into effect.”
Simply put, I-1366 would force the Legislature to pass a constitutional amendment requiring a two-thirds “supermajority” vote of the Legislature on revenue measures or the state would lose $1.4 billion a year in tax revenues that support schools, public safety, and other investments that help build a strong state economy.
In his argument during the hearing, the plaintiffs’ lead attorney Paul Lawrence explained that I-1366 is a perversion of the constitutional amendment process that would put a $1.4 billion gun to the head of the Legislature. Said Lawrence: “It is simply unconstitutional.”
The I-1366 ruling in King County Superior Court comes one day after the Washington State Supreme Court levied fines against the state for failing to adequately fund schools. I-1366 would make it impossible for lawmakers to produce the billions of dollars in additional school funding that the Court has said in no uncertain terms they must produce. Our kids and their teachers shouldn’t have to pay the price for the anti-democracy whims of Tim Eyman and his wealthy corporate backers.
August 13, 2015 -- The Washington State Budget & Policy Center will welcome influential policy expert and coalition-builder Misha Werschkul as its executive director, the organization’s board announced today.
Werschkul has spent the past 10 years in a range of policy leadership roles promoting economic justice with Service Employees International Union (SEIU) in Washington, DC, and the Seattle-based Local 775 of SEIU. She most recently served as SEIU 775’s legislative and policy director. Prior to that, she held two research fellowships with the Institute for Women's Policy Research in Washington, DC.
Based in Seattle, the Washington State Budget & Policy Center is an independent, nonpartisan organization that works for a just and prosperous state through sound research and analysis.
"Misha has an impressive track record of playing a key role in winning important policy victories in our state," said Tiffany Turner, president of the Budget & Policy Center Board of Directors. "She will be a strong leader of the Center with a great vision for shaping the debate around policies that promote prosperity for all Washingtonians."
Werschkul's background building relationships with legislators, community coalitions, and grassroots organizations makes her especially well-suited to lead the Center. Just this year, she helped lead the coalition for House passage of a statewide minimum wage increase and she advanced legislation to invest in better pay and benefits for low-wage home care workers. She has helped craft positions on workforce development and training, health and long-term care, payday lending, and revenue.
Werschkul has a master's degree in public policy and women's studies from George Washington University and a bachelor’s degree in economics and political science from Macalester College. Her community involvement also includes serving on the boards of Northwest Health Law Advocates and NARAL Pro-Choice Washington, among others. She was a founding member of the Younger Women's Task Force of the National Council of Women's Organizations.
"I am honored and thrilled to join the talented team at the Washington State Budget & Policy Center," said Werschkul. "Over the past decade, the Center has established itself as a leader in developing and advancing policies that support economic security for all Washingtonians. I am excited to work with the staff and board to increase our impact, develop deeper public awareness and civic engagement, and continue championing policies that promote a just and prosperous state."
Werschkul will start at the Center full time on September 28. She will take over from David West, who became the Center's interim director after Remy Trupin stepped down. As the founding executive director, Trupin led the organization for 10 years.
In Werschkul, the Washington State Budget & Policy Center gains a well-respected policy director, community-builder, and social justice advocate.
For school districts in high-poverty neighborhoods across Washington, there is a promising solution to address hunger and help reduce the opportunity gap in education: sign up for the “community eligibility” program. This program allows districts to provide free breakfast and lunch to all students, paid for by the federal government. School districts have until August 31st to enroll in the program.
The program reduces childhood hunger, better prepares students to learn in the classroom, eases stress for parents by helping their tight food budget go further, and reduces bureaucratic paperwork so that schools can focus on educating kids. Now in its second year, community eligibility is available to schools around the country where a large portion of students come from families that are struggling to make ends meet. It offers breakfast and lunch to all students at no cost (see Box 1 for more explanation). The program is offered through the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs, which is run by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service.
Nationwide, community eligibility served 6.6 million children in over 14,000 schools last year. But only about half of the schools that are eligible to take advantage of this powerful tool to feed children participated. So many more hungry students could benefit. Some school districts in Washington state have already taken advantage of this provision, recognizing the role community eligibility can play in creating a better life for kids, both in school and at home. School districts in our state that have enrolled in our state with the largest student populations affected include:
- The entire Yakima School District, where more than 15,000 students can now receive free breakfast and lunch at school
- All schools in the Sunnyside School District, impacting over 6,000 students
- Eleven schools in the Franklin Pierce School District, improving access to nutritious meals for just over 5,000 students
- All schools in the Toppenish School District, helping to ensure more than 3,800 students don’t go to school hungry
But we can do better; only 122 schools have adopted community eligibility – just 31% of those that are eligible to participate. The interactive map below shows how Washington state stacks up to the rest of the country.
We know that one in five kids in Washington live in households that struggle to put food on the table. We also know that the legacy of racist public policies in our country means that kids of color are at an even higher risk of hunger. Not knowing where their next meal will come from negatively impacts all aspects of a child’s life, particularly in school. Kids that go to school hungry can’t perform as well academically, limiting their opportunity to reach their full potential. By ensuring that kids whose families are struggling financially can receive two free meals a day in school, community eligibility helps reduce the gap between students with low incomes and their peers by giving them a better chance to come to class ready to learn. In fact, schools that have taken steps to increase the number of students with low incomes who receive free breakfast report that discipline and behavior problems went down and student attentiveness and attendance went up.
That is why it is so important that local school officials throughout Washington state opt in to community eligibility by Monday, August 31st. By doing so, they can support education and reduce hunger for Washington’s children.
For more information about how community eligibility works and for a full list of eligible schools, click here. For more information about Community Eligibility in Washington, contact Linda Stone, Food Policy Director with the Children’s Alliance.
The Budget and Policy Center staff would like to thank Linda Stone, Food Policy Director from the Children's Alliance, Adam Hyla E. Holdorf, Communications Directory from the Children's Alliance, and Rebecca Segal, Child Nutrition Associate with the Center on Budget & Policy Priorities (CBPP), for their contributions to this post.