As Charles wrote earlier today, poor people have moved out from cities into the suburbs. And that's especially true here—take a walk through the rapidly gentrifying Central District and you can see it happening before your eyes.
But what do we do about it?
"The next step is really for those communities to act as a sub-region," says Alan Berube, a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution. "We're South King County. We're bigger than the city of Seattle and we have more poor people than the city of Seattle. The only way we're going to address our challenges is if we work together on it, rather than fight among one another."
Berube is the co-author of a new book on suburban poverty in America, which includes a close look at South King County. Two years after doing fieldwork for the book in the area, he came back earlier this week and held a series of meetings with King County officials, mayors, and superintendents, "to remind them that this isn't the only suburban community in the country that's experiencing those kinds of changes," he says.
South King County is what the country is going to look like in thirty years, he explained. "If the nation's going to get it right, this is where it's going to start."
The region, Berube says, represents a unique confluence of factors—the shift of middle wage manufacturing jobs to service jobs; immigrants and refugees who are flocking to the suburbs, rather than the cities like they used to; and the lack of affordability in a nearby metropolis, i.e. Seattle. "There were very few places around the country where we saw all of those factors converge the way they did in South King County."
"There's no national network of suburban officials working on poverty issues," Berube says, even though there have long been associations of city officials who share data and strategies. But in South King County, there are already promising signs of innovation and collaboration.
One example is of a summer school lunch program in Kent that's gone mobile, he explained. Students of poor families are geographically dispersed, rather than crowded into city blocks. Buses, enabled with Internet and computers "so the kids can get online, which they're not necessarily able to do at home," come to them and serve lunch.
The larger question, Berube says, is whether the region and Washington State will connect folks in South King County with good jobs, "or is it going to continue to rely on, as it has, importing jobs from other parts of the country." He mentions Boeing. "There are a lots of kids in South King County right now that I'm sure would love the kind of stable career and good benefits that a machinist job could provide."
Despite the growing ranks of the poor, "I still think there is a potentially bright future for South King County coming out of the recession...there's a lot of momentum to build on. Y'all aren't Cleveland."