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Showing blog entries tagged as: Economic Security

This Session, Let’s Make Shared Prosperity the Top Priority

Posted by Melinda Young-Flynn at Jan 11, 2016 02:35 PM |

As the 2016 Washington state legislative session gets underway today, policymakers have an opportunity to keep the momentum going from the 2015 session by promoting policies that advance the long-term growth of our state's economy and the well-being of all Washingtonians. At the Washington State Budget & Policy Center, we'll be working to continue progress on several common-sense policy ideas we developed for the 2015-2017 biennium

In the last session, legislators took steps to support workers, families, and children by closing four unproductive tax breaks, partially restoring the cash grant for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, allowing families to stay on Working Connections Child Care for a continuous 12 months, and restoring funding for the State Food Assistance Program. [See our 2016 final budget analysis for more details.] In addition, many other items from our Legislative Agenda -- including implementing a tax on capital gains, raising the statewide minimum wage, and fully funding the Working Families Tax Rebate -- were included in one or more budget proposals or approved by either the House or Senate. These proposals are all ready for the Legislature to take action on in 2016. 

As we enter this session, new opportunities are emerging to advance more policies that create the building blocks of a strong economy. For example, the Budget & Policy Center is working on ways to bolster family security from generation to generation so Washingtonians who struggle today can build a future. This session, we will advocate for better data on intergenerational poverty and for the creation of long-term goals – that the State is held accountable for – to promote prosperity for parents and their children. In addition:

  • As advocates plan ballot initiatives in 2016 to improve the well-being of Washingtonians – including raising the statewide minimum wage and creating a statewide carbon reduction program – legislators could also take their own steps to help move these priorities forward. 
  • The Legislature can respond to the State Supreme Court’s McCleary case mandate to act on school funding, especially in terms of teacher compensation. Governor Inslee’s recent supplemental budget proposal that closed four unproductive tax breaks to partially address the need for better teacher pay was a good start. Now the Legislature should go further to reform our revenue system and make the public investments needed to end the teacher shortage in our state. 

During the 2016 session, which is expected to last 60 days, the Budget & Policy Center will continue to promote our 2015-2017 priorities for shared prosperity in Washington state. We will put particular emphasis on advancing racial equity and on some other key areas where there is likely to be most potential for progress in a short session: 

  • Racial Equity: Policymakers should pass legislation, like Senate Bill 5752, to require racial and ethnic impact statements that assess how proposed policies close the opportunity gap for people of color. 
  • Revenue: Policymakers should close even more unproductive tax breaks, advance a capital gains tax, and improve tax-break transparency and accountability. These steps will rightly support a revenue system that provides the resources needed for all Washingtonians to make ends meet – such as living-wage jobs and good public transportation. And if Initiative 1366 is not struck down by the courts, the Legislature should overturn it in order to preserve essential investments and prevent endless gridlock around state tax and budget decisions.
  • Economic Security: Legislators should support meaningful public investments to help people who are falling behind in Washington state, including programs like Working Connections Child Care. They should also establish and be accountable to a long-term vision to increase family economic security. 
  • Education: And they should support basic education at the level of funding required by the McCleary ruling, without taking resources away from other vital services. Focus needs to be put on improving salaries for teachers and ensuring that there is an equitable, high-quality K-12 school system that enables all our children to do their best.

Find our full 2015-17 legislative agenda here.

We Need a Two-Generation Approach to End Child Poverty

Posted by Elena Hernandez at Nov 25, 2015 04:05 PM |
Filed under: Poverty, Economic Security
By Lori Pfingst, research and policy director, & Elena Hernandez, policy analyst

No matter what indicator of child well-being you choose to focus on, it is almost without fail that children from low-income backgrounds are doing worse on it. When children do not have their basic needs met – even for a short period of time – it affects their brain development, the strength of their relationships, their ability to learn and perform in school, and their physical and mental health. So it goes without saying that the economic security of parents is inextricably tied to the well-being of their children. Indeed, family economic security is a precondition for a child to thrive. And Washington policymakers can help create the conditions for families to do better if they consider the needs of the whole family.

In Washington state, a surprising share of our children – almost one in three – are living in families that have a hard time meeting basic needs (living below 200 percent of the federal poverty line).

Rates of Washingtonians struggling to make ends meet range from a low of 11 percent in the 41st legislative district (Mercer Island, Bellevue, Newcastle, and Lake Sammamish) and 45th legislative district (Seattle) to a high of 47 percent in the 3rd legislative district (Spokane)).  

The interactive map below demonstrates these rates of economic hardship across the state. (Hover over the map for more details and also see the fact sheet here.)

That’s way too many kids who may not have enough to eat, a consistent place to sleep, or the resources to afford a trip to the doctor.  The growing research on brain science suggests that children who grow up with economic hardship are at greater risk of experiencing events that lead to levels of stress so toxic to them and their families that the impact will ripple throughout their lifetime. And if the individual impact of economic hardship on children doesn’t raise eyebrows, this statistic should: A conservative estimate of the economic costs of children who grow up in poverty is $11.7 billion per year in Washington state. 

We need to rethink child poverty in Washington state. The individual, societal, and economic costs are too great, and would surely be trumped by the benefits to reduce it. The question is – how? 

Nationally, two-generation approaches to reducing poverty – those that focus on economic success of families, as opposed to a focus on children or adults alone or in silos – are gaining momentum and showing promising results. In Colorado, Utah, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Oklahoma – to name just a few states where two-generation policies and programs are being put to the test – lawmakers, agencies, and service providers are taking innovative and holistic approaches to advancing family economic security. They are doing this by coordinating across five key domains – high-quality early childhood education; post-secondary education and career pathways; asset-building; health & well-being; and social capital (see graphic).   


Early investment in two-generation programs like CareerAdvance, Jeremiah Program, and Keys to Degrees are paying off. With basic needs of the family met, these programs are leading to living-wage careers for parents, better education outcomes for kids, and a low rate of return to social benefit programs. 

Washington state is well-positioned to adopt a two-generation approach to reducing child and family poverty. The expansion of a high-quality early learning system for children under the Early Start Act, as well as promising career pathways for low-income parents under the Workforce Innovation & Opportunity Act, are ripe for integration of two-generation programs that advance the well-being and security of families. We also have nationally recognized programs and models already in place to build off, like IBESTOpportunity Center for Employment and Education, and Head Start/ECEAP.

The evidence is as compelling as it is concrete – the benefits of reducing child poverty far outweigh the costs of the investments to make it happen. We encourage lawmakers to rethink Washington state’s approach to reducing child poverty in the upcoming legislative session. 

Our Research and Policy Director, Lori Pfingst, recently gave a two-part presentation to the House Early Learning and Human Services Committee highlighting this two-generation approach for achieving family economic security in our state. Listen to the audio of her presentation here.


Scraping By Isn’t Enough: What the Poverty Data Doesn’t Show

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.


Census Poverty Numbers Don't Tell the Whole Story

Posted by Elena Hernandez at Sep 11, 2015 12:05 AM |

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


Deadline Approaching for Best Chance to Feed Hungry Kids in Our State

Posted by Elena Hernandez at Aug 12, 2015 07:10 PM |
Filed under: Poverty, Economic Security
By Elena Hernandez, Policy Analyst, and Linda Stone, Food Policy Director with Children's Alliance

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.

NEW REPORT: Too Many Kids Are Being Left Behind in Economic Recovery

Because of stagnating wages, underemployment, and high costs for basic needs like housing and child care, many of Washington state’s kids and families will continue to have a hard time making ends meet, according to the 2015 KIDS COUNT Data Book released today. 

The report, released by the Annie E. Casey Foundation and KIDS COUNT in Washington, found that too many children and families are still not feeling the effects of the economic recovery and are facing issues like poverty, hunger, and homelessness. Washington ranks 19th overall among the 50 states in four areas of child well-being: education, health, family and community, and economic well-being. Policymakers need to make significant investments in our children if we are to make progress toward improving outcomes for our kids.

(Click on the image below to view the entire table)


KIDS COUNT in Washington found that our  state fares especially poorly in economic security. A lack of quality employment for parents, combined with high cost-of-living, is a significant challenge for Washington state. What’s more, our national legacy of structural racism means that an increasing share of Washington state’s children are born and raised on an unequal and unstable footing. For example (click on above graphic for data summary):

  • An additional 78,000 children are living in poverty since 2008. One in three Black (34 percent), American Indian/Alaska Native (32 percent) and Latino kids (32 percent), and one in four (25 percent) Pacific Islander/Native Hawaiian kids, live below the poverty line -- that's compared to the state average of 19 percent.
  • Approximately one in three (31 percent) children have parents that lack secure employment. 
  • Approximately one in three (36 percent) of children live in households with a high housing-cost burden. Housing and child care are the two biggest expenses families with young children face, taking up between one-third to half of median monthly income depending a family's racial and ethnic background (see chart).  

(Click on the image below to view the entire table)


What Would It Take to Be the No. 1 State for Kids?

The Data Book also contains good news. Washington state ranks among the top 10 best states for child health – a testament to the investments our state has made in the Washington Apple Health program, which has a goal to provide health insurance to all kids. There has also been a sizable decline in child death rates and the share of teens who are abusing drugs or alcohol, both of which can be attributed to the rise in public health campaigns and child-focused public policies. 

The message from these successes is clear – when Washington state invests in kids, it makes a difference. In addition, there are several steps that policymakers, community leaders, and child advocates can take to make Washington the best state in the country for kids to live:

  • Lead with equity. We cannot make progress as a state if we don’t achieve racial and socioeconomic equity. Investments to advance well-being for all children must start with the kids who need investing in the most. 
  • Investigate the story behind the data. Data, on its own, tells a limited story about the people it represents. Lawmakers should work with the people that the data represents to understand their stories, and develop community-informed policies that have a higher likelihood of success. 
  • Increase investment in policies that simultaneously support both parents and children. The Casey Foundation recommends policies that result in higher pay, paid sick leave, flexible scheduling, and expanded unemployment benefits that will result in higher family income, reduced parental stress, and an increased capacity for parents to invest in their kids. Detailed recommendations can be found in the 2014 report, Creating Opportunity for Families: A Two-Generation Approach.

Read the KIDS COUNT in Washington press release about the 2015 Data Book. 

The 2015 Data Book is available at Additional information is available at the KIDS COUNT Data Center, which also contains the most recent national, state, and local data on hundreds of indicators of child well-being. The Data Center allows users to create rankings, maps, and graphs for use in publications and on websites, and to view real-time information on mobile devices. 

KIDS COUNT in Washington is a joint effort of the Children's Alliance and the Washington State Budget & Policy Center, which are working together to pursue measurable improvements in kids’ lives in Washington state.


Progress in Focus: Declining Economic Security Is a Big Threat for Washingtonians

With too many hardworking people struggling to get by, state lawmakers must do more to support the investments needed for Washingtonians’ long-term economic security than they did in the recent state budget.

For an eye-opening look at the challenges our state faces, see the "Progress at a Glance" table below and, for more details, check out our full Progress Index .

(Click on the image below to view the entire table)


Ultimately, state budget writers this year missed significant opportunities to help build an economy where prosperity is widely shared. Their budget did not do enough to rectify the fact that today’s economy is providing gains to a relative handful of Washingtonians, as these statistics dramatically show:

  • Nearly one quarter of all income in Washington state goes to the richest 1 percent – those with average annual incomes of $1.3 million. For perspective, the richest 1 percent held no more than 11 percent of all income during the height of middle-class prosperity from 1947 to 1979. 
  • Between 2009 and 2012, during the recovery from the Great Recession, all income gains went to the richest Washingtonians. The remaining 99 percent saw their income decline.
  • Median household income declined by $4,000 between 2008 and 2013, to $58,405 a year from $62,486. 
  • The share of Washingtonians who make too little to meet basic needs is rising, now encompassing nearly one-third of the population.  

In addition to all this, Washington continues to have the nation’s most upside-down state tax system: as a percentage of what they make in a year, the lowest-paid Washingtonians pay up to seven times more in state and local taxes than the wealthiest 1 percent. 

The disturbing situation these statistics describe should serve as a clarion call to lawmakers that investments need to be made to create affordable housing, connect workers to job training, keep children from going hungry, and in other ways promote opportunity and prosperity for all. Yet Washington state invests just 3 percent of its total operating revenue on ways to help Washingtonians maintain economic stability during an economic downturn or personal crisis.

Further, inadequate state support over the past five years has weakened the forms of assistance many Washingtonians need most. Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and Working Connections Child Care – critical tools to help families find or keep a job – serve significantly fewer children today than in 2008.

The recently adopted state budget did increase support in some key areas, like expanding early learning opportunities for all kids and providing a small increase in cash assistance to families struggling to get by. But those gains are severely threatened by the failure to enact enough new, sustainable revenue sources to protect long-term investments and economic security in the years to come. The adoption of a capital gains tax on the wealthiest Washingtonians in particular would have provided several million dollars a year to meet important needs and take a step toward making taxes more equitable.

This is Part 6 in our "Progress in Focus" series of blog posts highlighting the individual sections of the Progress Index. To read our additional recommendations for how to support a thriving Washington economy, visit the Economic Security section of our Progress Index. See our previous posts: 

Part 5: Healthy People

Part 4: Healthy Environment

Part 3: Good Jobs

Part 2: Education

Part 1: Revenue

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Roxana_BMC_plenary_2016View the Budget Matters 2016 conference plenary, "What's at Stake in the 2017-2019 Budget: Funding McCleary and Beyond." Moderated by Ann Dornfeld of KUOW, the plenary features Nathan Gibbs-Bowling, the 2016 Washington State Teacher of the Year; Lew Moore of the Washington Research Council; Roxana Norouzi of OneAmerica; and Sen. Christine Rolfes. The plenary starts after an intro by Executive Director Misha Werschkul and an intro video by Gov. Inslee.