Racial Economic Equity

Economic inequality has expanded over the past months because of the COVID-19 pandemic, shutting the windows of stability and opportunity for millions of Americans. In communities of color, this growing inequality has manifested itself through structural, systemic and institutional factors that are driving health and income inequities for those who were already struggling pre-COVID.

Seattle touts a healthy economy and is one of the fastest growing major cities in the US. But the economic prosperity and wealth that has come from these two points has not been spread out equally. While Seattle has a rich, growing and diverse population and a culture that appears progressive, people and communities of color remain on the margins of the rising economy. When comparing Seattle’s White residents to residents of color, we see massive income and wealth gaps, racially disparate unemployment rates and higher rates of cost-burdened renters. As in most major U.S. cities, inequality in Seattle has been ingrained in the economic and social growth since the city’s inception.

Seattle has seen boom and bust cycles–lumber industry bust, Klondike Gold Rush boom, World War II industry boom, post-war industry bust, tech and shipping boom–in its economy as industries grew and then fell out of useful commodification. Today, the largest industries in Seattle are professional, scientific and technical services (88,298 people), health care and social assistance (55,880 people) and retail trade (55,338 people).4 Professional, scientific and technical services also provides the second highest salary rate at $96,113, right behind the information sector at $100,701.

Seattle appears to be a prosperous city, and compared to most national economic indicators, households overall in Seattle are faring better, our research shows. However, when you look across racial groups, you can see economic disparities. In fact, while Black households in Seattle earned close to the national median, those dollars circulate far less, given the high cost of housing. To further highlight these disparities, the value of White-owned businesses ($1,006,920) is two times that of the national rate ($440,343), while Black businesses are only worth $81,777, topped by Native American businesses at $144,762 and Asian American businesses at $372,280. Despite the considerable size of the Latinx community in Seattle, current Census data does not provide any insights into how much these businesses are worth.

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