Report can guide King County through hardships

By Craig Groshart, Bellevue Reporter editor

It's no surprise that our area is going through a tough time. Like the rest of the nation, we find our pocketbooks pinched by a recession. People are skittish about spending and officials are worried.

Now, a new report outlines more specifically the issues facing those of us in King County.

Called "Communities Count 2008," the report is produced every three years by public and private partner organizations and examines the trend in 38 indicators of well-being selected because of their importance to residents of King County. While there have been improvements, problems still remain.

What the new report finds is that people are making trade-offs 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.

The pressure is greater on lower- and middle-class families.

Homeownership, for example, 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) vs. the median home price of $455,000.

Here are some other trends. 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.

• Affordable housing is lacking.

• 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.

• Urban parks and open spaces are steadily growing.

But, as King County Executive Ron Sims notes: "It is unacceptable that not all communities are experiencing improvements, and there are areas where we have taken significant steps back.”

The report has another plus. It can help drive decisions by policymakers and non-profit agencies to make sure that the areas of greatest need are being addressed first.

As Jon Fine, President and CEO of United Way of King County aptly notes, "We need to know that we are making the greatest possible impact in the community, and doing it as efficiently as possible, especially given the current economic climate."

You can read the full report at www.communitiescount.org.

Craig Groshart is editor of the Bellevue Reporter, a sister paper of The Mirror. Contact: cgroshart@bellevuereporter.com.

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