In 2012, the median household income for the census tract that covers the downtown core of Spokane was $16,503. Low income apartments dot the urban landscape. Retired seniors, the disabled and the working poor stroll outside their apartment buildings. Service providers like City Gate, Transitions and Cool Cup of Water have long been housed downtown, and if you walk by their location on a given weekday morning, you are likely to see the faces of extreme poverty: people without homes, family or resources that can help make life better. These men, women and children carry all they have with them. I walk by many of these places on my way to work. A person cannot help but be shook to the core with compassion to see such struggle, hardship and desperation. These faces of poverty are many, and lately they seem to be growing as wages for most of us remain stagnant and resources are bought up. But as we all know by now, not everyone has been doing so poorly.
Nessled in little-ventured nooks and crannies live the faces of wealth and power. Not far from the Cathedral of Our Lady of Lourdes, you can purchase a $900,000 condo. What do you get for this price? You get 4,970 square feet of finely constructed space that includes three bedrooms, three bathrooms, a private wine cellar, jetted tubs, double ovens built for a world class chef and a private courtyard. Similar posh downtown living can be found right across from Riverpark Square, where an $800,000 condo comes with a concierge service. Or perhaps you do not want to live downtown, but close to it. Near Cliff Park, there is a house for you: a cozy $1.3 million, 5,337 square foot home that features extensive use of imported Italian marble. The grotesque contrast between a myriad of families living in a low income property for working poor and near homeless individuals, trying desperately to make ends meet, and a small handful of wealthy elites basking in luxury lofts that come with concierge services or relaxing in mini-mansions crafted with fine Italian marble are the inspiration of dystopian thrillers like Elysium and Snowpiercer. Income inequality, the phenomenon highlighted by this contrast in situations, has been written about and discussed more and more lately, but in order to understand it better we need to understand just how it is impacting us where we live.
We do not often think or speak of income inequality on a local level, but it impacts all communities. Right here in Spokane, we have been silently grappling with consequences of wealth and power being concentrated in the hands of so few for decades, and more recent statistics do not bode well. In 2012, the top 5 percent of households captured 21.02 percent of aggregate (meaning all) household income in the city. That year, aggregate household income was $4.8 billion for the City of Spokane. This means the top 5 percent of households, or around 4,000 households out of the over 87,000 in the City of Spokane, captured $1.005 billion of all household income that year. The lowest fifth of households? The over 15,000 households in this income quintile only captured 3.43 percent of aggregate household incoming, amounting to $164.6 million or over six times less than what the top 5 percent made in income. Looking at the issue from a racial perspective, the picture is even bleaker. Black households in Spokane only captured $72.8 million of aggregate household income, which is lower as a percentage of total aggregate income (1.5%) than the percentage of households in Spokane that are black (1.7 percent). Latino or Hispanic households did not fair much better, capturing only $117,698,500 in aggregate household income. In the years that they have been measuring it, the Gini Index which is often used to measure income inequality, saw a slight dip in Spokane pre-recession only to increase (which means inequality is getting worse) in 2011 and 2012. If we hope to address this growing trend, we have a lot of work to do in our own backyard.
(All income and household data is derived from the 2012 American Community Survey. For more information on the data, and to dig into it yourself, click here).
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