Income gains are not being shared equally

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Income gains are not being shared equally

New Census data show many Washingtonians of color are still facing barriers to economic opportunity

By - October 12, 2018

From 2016 to 2017, Washington state’s median household income rose while the statewide poverty rate slightly declined, according to new data released by the U.S. Census Bureau. While this is good news, it is tempered by the fact that gains in prosperity have not been shared equally across racial and ethnic groups. Substantial barriers to financial well-being persist for many people of color as a result of a continued legacy of discrimination in hiring and promotions, overrepresentation in low-wage work, and redlining policies that pushed people into neighborhoods that often don’t have the resources they need to thrive. 

In 2017, our state’s median annual household income increased by $2,430 (in inflation-adjusted dollars) from the previous year. But even though hardworking people of every racial and ethnic identity are driving growing economic prosperity in our state, not all households are reaping the benefits.

White households represent the only racial group in Washington to have seen a meaningful bump in household income¹,  with median income rising to $72,254 in 2017. Meanwhile, income growth stalled for Black and Latinx households. And even more disconcertingly, incomes for Native American and Alaska Native households slid backwards.

Washington’s median income was just $52,212 for Latinx households, $49,300 for Black households, and $42,127 for Native American and Alaska Native households in 2017. This means that many households of color are struggling to make ends meet, with incomes well below the high cost of living in our state – $64,203 for a single parent with two kids². These patterns reflect the outcomes of centuries of discriminatory federal, state, and local policies.

Census data also show that 3,532 fewer Washingtonians lived in poverty last year than in 2016, as the overall poverty rate fell slightly from 11.3 to 11 percent. Even with this modest decline, the actual number of people in poverty in Washington remains higher than it was a decade ago at the onset of the Great Recession. In fact, the number of Washington families living in deep poverty (with an income of less than $10,210 for a family of three) grew by nearly 30 percent from 2007 to 2016 ³.

Families of color – particularly those headed by single women – and kids are hit especially hard. As the chart below illustrates, too many young people of color don’t have access to the financial resources they need for a safe, secure, and bright start in life. More than a quarter of Latinx, Native American, and Pacific Islander children, and nearly 30 percent of Black children, lived in a household below the poverty level in 2017.

Bar graph showing percent of Washington children under 18 living below the poverty level by race and ethnicity as of 2017.

Washington’s kids and families deserve better, and our policymakers can do better by making investments in our communities that enable all of us to thrive. We know that anti-poverty programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (WorkFirst), affordable housing, affordable childcare, and Apple Health work. They provide families who have fallen on hard times the opportunity to meet basic needs, get and keep jobs, and increase their income over time. State lawmakers should take advantage of a growing state economy to invest in poverty reduction efforts so that everyone in our state can have the opportunity to thrive – especially those communities of color who have historically been excluded from economic opportunity.

1. While other racial/ethnic groups also saw an increase in annual median household income from 2016 to 2017, the bump in median income for white households was not only larger than most other groups but also the only statistically significant increase, according to Center on Budget and Policy Priorities analysis of 2017 American Community Survey (ACS) data.
2.  MIT Living Wage Calculator for single-parent household with two children, Washington state; http://livingwage.mit.edu/states/53
3.  Center on Budget and Policy Priorities two-year analysis of Current Population Survey (CPS) data.

About the author

Liz works on research and analysis to advance the Center’s policy agenda. Her fellowship with our organization is offered through the State Priorities Partnership – a national network of state fiscal policy organizations coordinated by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Read more about Liz