Dow Constantine Comes Out Swinging Against Income Inequality

If you haven’t seen the state of the county speech that King County Executive Dow Constantine delivered yesterday, you really should. It’s not just the best speech Constantine’s ever given—it’s also a comprehensive survey of King County’s pervasive income inequality. Watch it below (the speech begins at 23:25).

Constantine makes it clear that the state of the county is strong by every traditional metric—unemployment is down, median income is up—but he points out that strength is not enough.

In the highly competitive global economy of the 21st century, no one is expendable. That is why, if King County is to continue to prosper, we must give all of our children, regardless of race, or family income, or ZIP code, the best start in life we can. On average, King County families are doing well. But that is only on average, for the disturbing truth is, almost all of our job growth is coming at the very top and the very bottom of the income spectrum.

“For the first time in postwar history, King County’s middle class is shrinking,” Constantine warns, and he rightly cites this as the result of  “nearly four decades of trickle-down economics, Wall Street deregulation, and a concerted political attack on the power of workers to organize.”

Our hero.

Our hero.

Despite all those traditionally uplifting metrics that say we’re doing well, Constantine makes the argument for a different kind of measurement. It’s not deregulation and tax cuts that make Seattle so desirable, he argues. It’s the people who live here:

Tax policy matters, but it wasn’t tax breaks that attracted SpaceX to Redmond. It was our people: A uniquely talented and highly skilled aerospace workforce available nowhere else—the product of a middle class that could afford to educate itself and its children.

This is a point that cannot be emphasized enough: the thing that makes this part of the world so special, the quality that identifies King County an engine of the global economy, is our people. A shrinking middle class robs our citizens of the agency to be exceptional. If our economy is divided between the haves and the have-nots our public education will suffer, our infrastructure will crumble, and everything that makes King County remarkable will fade away. To prepare for our future we need to be as inclusive as possible, meaning we need the middle class to expand.

It’s refreshing to hear an elected official say this outright. In many ways, acknowledging that we have a problem is the most important step. The rest is just hard work and focus.



Paul Constant
Paul Constant has written about politics, books, and film for Newsweek, The Progressive, the Utne Reader, and alternative weeklies around the country.