Editor's Note: What It Takes to Compete

Without more middle-income jobs, Seattle faces a tough climb.
| FROM THE PRINT EDITION |
 
 

In a global competitiveness ranking of nine midsize cities by the Boston Consulting Group (BCG), Seattle has fallen one notch — to sixth place — from 2013 to 2015, and Singapore has overtaken San Francisco to become first. Seattle performs poorly in education, infrastructure and finance. But another reason for its weakness is rising inequality.

While there was a 19 percent increase in high-income jobs in the region from 2005 to 2013, and a more than 5 percent increase in low-wage jobs, the number of workers earning a middle income between $35,000 and $75,000 declined by 7,000. That trend continues, says John Wenstrup, managing director at BCG’s Seattle office, and it hurts Seattle’s standing in BCG’s ranking system.  

We all understand the high human cost of having fewer people with living-wage jobs; what’s less understood is how the high economic costs of inequality  strongly argue for investing substantial sums to reverse the trend.

PROSPERITY: Middle-class jobs raise per-capita income and allow for social mobility — the notion that anybody can get ahead if they just work hard enough. The middle class also happens to be the largest source of the entrepreneurs so important to our region.

HEALTH AND SOCIAL STABILITY: Studies show that communities with high-income disparities tend to suffer more health problems, leading to more homicides, obesity and mental illness. That reduces productivity and the quality of life, which, in turn, can  make it harder for our companies to attract the talent they need. 

RESILIENCE: Today, Microsoft, Boeing, Amazon and the University of Washington account for 30 percent of our jobs and 50 percent of our wages. A decline in fortunes at any one of those organizations, important sources of family-wage jobs, would deal a big blow to the region’s economy. 

So, if middle-income jobs are so important, how do we create more of them?

One answer is to train workers for the jobs that are available today in such industries as maritime, manufacturing, health care and technology. That means preparing our students better for college and vocational schools. Today, only 39 percent of our high school students go to college, putting us 47th in the nation. We must also train workers for emerging needs such as installing and repairing the smart-home systems that will soon connect home appliances to the internet, and providing wellness coaching and other services needed in a health-care system increasingly focused on preventive care. 

Another approach is attracting more national and global companies to the Seattle region in areas such as manufacturing and professional services, as the Economic Development Council of Seattle and King County is seeking to do. These outposts would not only create more middle-income jobs and better anchor us in the global economy, but also would diversify our economy and help us weather future downturns.

Additionally, supporting those middle-income families requires providing reasonable health care, affordable housing, child care and transportation options. All these efforts are expensive, but if they lead to a stronger community and a more robust economy, they will be well worth the investment. It’s been Singapore’s path to a stronger economy. It’s a path we should follow, too.

HEALTH AND SOCIAL STABILITY: Studies show that communities with high-income disparities tend to suffer more health problems, leading to more homicides, obesity and mental illness. That reduces productivity and the quality of life, which, in turn, can  make it harder for our companies to attract the talent they need. 

RESILIENCE: Today, Microsoft, Boeing, Amazon and the University of Washington account for 30 percent of our jobs and 50 percent of our wages. A decline in fortunes at any one of those organizations, important sources of family-wage jobs, would deal a big blow to the region’s economy. 

So, if middle-income jobs are so important, how do we create more of them?

One answer is to train workers for the jobs that are available today in such industries as maritime, manufacturing, health care and technology. That means preparing our students better for college and vocational schools. Today, only 39 percent of our high school students go to college, putting us 47th in the nation. We must also train workers for emerging needs such as installing and repairing the smart-home systems that will soon connect home appliances to the internet, and providing wellness coaching and other services needed in a health-care system increasingly focused on preventive care. 

Another approach is attracting more national and global companies to the Seattle region in areas such as manufacturing and professional services, as the Economic Development Council of Seattle and King County is seeking to do. These outposts would not only create more middle-income jobs and better anchor us in the global economy, but also would diversify our economy and help us weather future downturns.

Additionally, supporting those middle-income families requires providing reasonable health care, affordable housing, child care and transportation options. All these efforts are expensive, but if they lead to a stronger community and a more robust economy, they will be well worth the investment. It’s been Singapore’s path to a stronger economy. It’s a path we should follow, too.

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