SEATTLE - The American dream has faded away for many in Washington, a new study finds.
The report, "The State of Working Washington,"
combines data from dozens of sources on jobs, wages and benefits. Its conclusion may be no surprise: for all but the wealthiest Washingtonians, times are tougher.
The report even says fewer people are moving into the state. Report author Marilyn Watkins, economist and policy director at the Economic Opportunity Institute
, says Washington welcomed lots of new residents in the last decade - enough to warrant getting a new seat in Congress - but now there isn't enough work for them.
"With 840,000 new residents, we only have 74,000 more jobs than we had in 2000. So, less than one job for every 10 new people. That's a lot of people competing for not very many jobs."
The state has lost 175,000 jobs overall since 2008, the report says. Watkins predicts it will be years before that loss can be made up, and then only with some major policy changes.
State and federal budget crises have combined to reduce many workers' earning power and retirement security, Watkins says. Layoffs, furloughs and fewer work hours are having a ripple effect.
"It really does have an impact on individuals' lives, but also on our whole economy. That's removing real money from our economy - money that circulates to buy food and pay home mortgages and whatnot - in a way that really slows down economic recovery."
The report says the recession happened because of public policy decisions, and suggests ways to rebuild the middle class - from investing more money in education and infrastructure to taxing the rich. Watkins says the state Legislature is one place to start.
"The Legislature, by a simple majority, can approve closing tax loopholes or in other ways raising revenue, and then send those off to the voters. That's something that's politically possible to do - but legislators are very nervous about even doing that."
It's not all bad news for Washington. The report cites the state's high minimum wage and percentage of union representation as factors that help boost average household income above that of most other states. However, in a dozen counties, the report finds that the percentage of people living in poverty is near, or more than, 20 percent.