Seattle routinely ranks as one of the best cities to raise a family, but it's becoming harder for families to afford the increasingly high cost of living. A new report from the University of Washington highlights just how expensive living in Seattle has become: A family of four needs to earn $76,000 a year to afford to live at a basic-needs level in Seattle.
If that number sounds high, it should: It's risen 86 percent since 2001. It’s also increased at more than twice the rate of the Consumer Price Index, a measure of inflation used as a cost-of-living indicator.
One of the primary reasons for the increase is skyrocketing housing costs. “We moved to Seattle in early 2010 and chose our home because it was in one of the most affordable areas of King County,” says Barbara Ferrer, a novelist and mother of two. “If we were looking to buy now, we wouldn’t be able to afford our house. Its value has increased over $250,000 in the nearly eight years we’ve lived here."
If we were looking to buy now, we wouldn’t be able to afford our house.
Diane Pearce, a senior lecturer at the UW School of Social Work and director for the Center for Women’s Welfare, co-authored the report and has been calculating the basic-needs thresholds for Seattle about every three years since 2001.
Realizing that different areas in Washington have a different cost of living, Pearce set out to create a more localized guide for Seattle. Her report, called the Self-Sufficiency Standard for Seattle, is an attempt to fine-tune the uniform state-wide wage goal set by state workforce programs helping unemployed people become self-sufficient.
Pearce’s report factors in the use of public transportation, but not owning a car or using ride services. “It’s a basic-needs budget, at a minimally adequate level,” she told The Seattle Times. “So the food budget, for example, is only groceries. There’s not a slice of pizza, a latte or an ice cream cone in there.”
Despite the fact that it’s based on a bare-bones budget, the Self-Sufficiency Standard is still significantly higher than the federal poverty threshold. The federal poverty guideline for a family of three is $20,420, no matter where they live in the country. According to Pearce’s report, there is nowhere in Washington that a family of three could manage to live on so little.
Pearce notes that the increasing gap between wages and cost of living is also affecting other issues in the city, including traffic. Everyone who lives or travels through Seattle knows the frustration of the city’s increasingly congested roads. “The growth outward puts a huge stress on the roads as everyone drives into Redmond or Seattle,” says Cecilia Duvalle, a mom who lives in Redmond.
But those who can afford it believe the higher cost of living is a tradeoff for the opportunities the city holds. “Our move from Jacksonville, Florida to Seattle was the absolute best move we could have made for our kids and I’d do it all over again,” Ferrer says. “There’s no way they would have had the opportunities, especially creatively and educationally speaking, in Jacksonville that they were afforded here.”
Of course, it's easy to feel fondly about Seattle when you already own a home. For younger residents, who may be trying to buy their first home or afford the city on lower salaries, Seattle is becoming increasingly unaffordable. No matter how great a city is, it's hard to enjoy it when you're struggling to stay afloat.