Innovative solutions to our nation’s biggest challenges have consistently come from our metropolitan regions. A discussion on how King County, WA is removing barriers to success for all residents and lessons learned for other regions across the country. With King County, WA Executive Dow Constantine.
Interview Recorded on November 30, 2016. Read a partial transcript below:
Traynham: The Unites States can be a place of remarkable prosperity and startling inequity. The metropolitan region of King County, Washington — one of the nation’s most populous counties, reflects this disparity in spite of unprecedented economic growth. County executive Dow Constantine of King County, Washington, joins me to discuss actions he’s taking to ensure the enduring prosperity of the Puget Sound region and how other regions can follow suit. Dow, welcome to the program.
Constantine: Thanks for having me, Robert.
Traynham: You know, it sounds like — this is basically Seattle, Washington — it sounds like there is a lot of opportunities in your neck of the woods, if you have a certain skill set. But if you don’t have that skill set — whatever that may be — you kind of fall through the cracks a little bit.
Constantine: Well, that’s right. We’re the home to Microsoft, Amazon — to, really, global corporations that have continuous demands from people who are highly trained and highly educated. Thousands of jobs that we can’t fill and are being filled by great people coming from around the world. And yet at the same time, we have hundreds of thousands of folks who are stuck in poverty generation after generation. Our goal really is two-fold — to make sure that they can earn enough right now to take care of their families and live a decent life. And that over the course of their youth and into young adulthood, they get the things they need to be able to grab on to that new economy.
Traynham: And Dow, how do you do that? I think the simple answer is, more education. But what if that’s not an option? Or perhaps maybe they already have the education, but it may not fit into the skill set that you’re referring to.
Constantine: We’ve actually decided to start earlier.
Constantine: We’ve actually decided to start earlier. With the Best Starts for Kids measure passed by our voters last year, we’re investing from prenatal through those critical first few years to make sure every kid arrives at kindergarten ready to succeed and support them throughout school so that when they graduate from high school, they’re ready — ready to go to work or ready to go to college — and do the things they need to do to participate in this new economy, this global economy.
Traynham: So, if I hear you correctly, early childhood education — zero, from birth, to 4 years old. Even before they get into kindergarten, those are critical years for forming that brain.
Constantine: That’s when all the brain development happens. We have great science coming out of the University of Washington and other institutions that really points to those first 36 months as absolutely critical.
Traynham: I’m curious now. What is the average income in King County?
Constantine: Average income is in the mid-70s.
Constantine: What I do know is that of all of the households that have been created in our region, which has been growing by leaps and bounds, since 2000, 96% of them earn either over $125,000 a year or under $35,000. There are very few new jobs being created in the middle, and this is really an example of what you alluded to. The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer, and a lot of what we’re doing in education, in transportation, is aimed at beginning to close that gap.
Traynham: I want to focus for a few moments on transportation. What do you mean by that? Is that basically light rail and buses and all the other things to make sure that people can get to the jobs, people that are more mobile, or frankly, people that cannot afford their own private transportation. What does that mean?
Constantine: Well, yes, transportation is an enormous cost along with housing, and our region is very congested. So for our economy to continue to grow, our businesses need people to be able to get around. And for people to be able to participate in that economy, we know more and more that mobility is indispensable — to get to education, to get to the job interview, to get to daycare, and to get to work on time and get home again to your family. So we just passed a $54 billion rail measure. I’m the chair of the Regional Transit Authority, and that is going to, over the course of a couple decades, build a 116-mile light rail system that will rival Chicago, Washington, and San Francisco.