Evaluating Prosperity in Greater Seattle

Nov 15, 2019Insights, Perspectives, Shared Prosperity

by Ted Schneider

The recent release of the Scorecard for Shared Prosperity, a new framework developed by Civic Commons to evaluate the Greater Seattle region’s economic well-being, ushers in a new way to consider what it means for a region to be prosperous. Traditional measures of prosperity are based solely on economic growth, with Seattle often at the top of lists that celebrate GDP and wealth creation. While our economy has created benefits for many people, driven primarily by a record stock market and increasing housing prices, a significant portion of people have been excluded from participation in this growth.  

While economic growth alone is insufficient to evaluate regional prosperity, the Scorecard for Shared Prosperity appropriately recognizes that our region’s economic growth is a critical ingredient for all of us to do better. However, growth that further enriches the wealthiest while excluding those on the margins is unsustainable and undemocratic. Growth that serves to enrich all individuals, households and communities is necessary and critical and serves as the basis for shared prosperity.

The Scorecard for Shared Prosperity is not simply a data project. It uses data to change the narrative around two separate but interconnected realities that people in our region face. The first is that while pace of growth in our region is extraordinarily high, that growth has not been sufficiently reinvested to allow individuals, households, and communities in our region thrive.   The Scorecard for Shared Prosperity puts forward a new framework and associated indicators to evaluate how individuals, households, and communities are thriving, supported by both a strong economy and healthy democracy.  We won’t truly achieve shared prosperity in our region until each element of the framework indicates health and progress.

The second reality that the Scorecard for Shared Prosperity highlights is the pervasive disparities experienced by people of color in our region. Wherever possible, data is disaggregated by race to show the significance of these disparities, and to track their change over time. These disparities are driven by many factors. Discriminatory behaviors and individual biases play a role and must be addressed. Far more impactful, however, are systems of racism, enacted through policy, that have excluded many people of color from prosperity over time. The legacy of redlining, exclusionary hiring and lending policies, and a criminal justice system that incarcerates people of color at far higher rates relative to the rest of the population, are examples of these systemic causes that lead to the disparities we see highlighted on the Scorecard for Shared Prosperity.

The two realities highlighted by the Scorecard for Shared Prosperity are unique yet interconnected. Strategies to address one of these realities without considering the other are insufficient and sub-optimized. For example, The Business Roundtable’s recent “Statement of Purpose of a Corporation” outlines a new model of capitalism that elevates the needs of a broad set of stakeholder groups to be equal to the needs of its shareholders. The Roundtable should be applauded for evolving and supporting a model that is much more aligned with the framework of shared prosperity. However, recognizing the reality of racial disparities in their efforts, and developing approaches that seek to address those disparities while at the same time more effectively supporting individuals, households, and communities will lead to even better outcomes for our region.   By reimagining systems and institutions to include rather than exclude, eliminating barriers to participation and power, and recognizing the value of culturally rich communities that are afforded the opportunity to thrive in our region, we can move toward a reality of shared prosperity. We all can do better if we are all doing better.

My hope is the Scorecard for Shared Prosperity will spur a new conversation and a new frame to guide decision making. As a business owner, I need to evaluate my decisions and investments based not only on revenue and margin, but also on how they allow individuals, households and communities to thrive in our region, and on how they allow people to participate in our essential civic processes. I need to find new ways to collaborate with partners in the public and non-profit sectors in pursuit of these outcomes, bringing my unique expertise and allowing them to bring their unique expertise to the issues at hand. And I need to support all communities in our region to achieve self-determination and effectively wield power and influence. I hope everyone in the Greater Seattle region will join me in this conversation as we reimagine what prosperity truly means for every one of us.