Meeting Minutes from InspireSeattle Social on May 30, 2015

Income Inequality in King County (and America)

Much has been written and said of the widening income inequality in America.  But even with the press coverage the issue has been receiving recently, most Americans still don't realize how extraordinarily unequal our country has become since the 1970s.  These misconceptions are captured in this 6 minute video on Wealth Inequality in America

This distressing trend unfortunately exists in King County as well.  And the impacts extend beyond income inequality itself - race, income, neighborhood are each major predictors of whether we graduate from high school, become incarcerated, how healthy we are, and even how long we will live.  Given the national and international factors leading to income inequality, is there anything we can do about it locally?

King County is working to address this through their Equity and Social Justice work (see the “King County Equity and Social Justice Annual Report”, which is found on this website (on right of the page)).  The county is committed to implementing our equity and social justice agenda to work toward fairness and opportunity for all and to remove barriers that limit the ability of some to fulfill their potential. Our economy and quality of life depends on the ability of everyone to contribute.  Solutions that build equity and opportunity rely on us all getting involved

Click here to see Carrie Cihak's slides
(and links to further resources)


Guest Speaker:  Carrie Cihak 

Carrie S. Cihak is Chief of Policy in the King County Executive’s Office.  She develops solutions for issues that are complex, controversial, cross-agency, or of particular concern to King County Executive Dow Constantine.  Carrie leads a team of advisors known informally as the “policy pod” to guide implementation of the goals of the King County Strategic Plan.  She comes to the Executive Office after eight years as a senior-level policy and budget analyst for the County Council.  Carrie is trained as a PH.D-level economist and worked on international trade and finance for President Clinton’s Council of Economic Adviser.   


Additional Info on Forum:


Earlier this week, King County Executive Dow Constantine delivered his annual State of the County address, in which he highlighted the threat income inequality poses for our region.  He also announced a proposal called Best Starts for Kids that would put every child in King County on a path toward lifelong success and the ability to contribute their fullest to our region.  Best Starts for Kids would fund prevention and early intervention strategies based on the latest brain science with a property tax levy costing the average homeowner about $1 per week.  You can view or read his State of the County address and learn more about Best Starts for Kids here:  



Joseph Stiglitz, Nobel prize winner in economics, has outlined what must be done to restore a just and equitable economy in the United States.  Below is a link to the report he produced as chief economist at the Roosevelt Institute:

Rewriting the Rules of the American Economy:  An Agenda for Growth and Shared Prosperity



Subsidies, tax treatment, legal protection and other mechanisms conspire to aid the wealthy while often serving to dampen economic gains.  Below are listed 20 measures to break the legal framework that locks in inequality and are taken from a New York Times piece:

“What the Debate on Inequality is Missing” by Edouardo Porter, New York Times, May 5, 2015

*  Stop the proliferation of trade agreements that protect the rights of corporations to move operations outside the country and done little to protect the formerly middle-class workers on the wrong side of trade
*  Stop the steady tightening of intellectual property rights
*  Change how financiers are rewarded - 
*  Replace options in bankers' pay packages with subordinated debt, to impose losses on executives if their bets went bad down the road. 
*  Banks could be forced to issue contingent capital that converts to preferred stock in times of distress, imposing losses on existing shareholders.
*  Eliminate/remove investment pacts in trade agreements which allow multinationals to sue governments for compensation if regulation hurts their profits
Stop grandfathering existing businesses to protect them from new regulation
*  Stop granting water rights to whoever first uses the water
*  Create a higher minimum wage - set at a living wage standard
*  Guarantee of government employment up to 35 hours a week, to address unemployment and the proliferation of unstable hourly jobs that make it so hard for the working poor to earn a living.
*  Strengthen unions and create a "social and economic council" where representatives of labor and civil society could have a say in policy, offering a counterweight to corporate power.
*  Aim gov't research budget toward technologies that might help the
employability of workers rather than substitute for them. 
*  Reform antitrust law, to broaden its narrow focus on efficiency and explicitly consider its impact on the distribution of wealth.
*  Marginal income tax rates could be pushed higher (65%?) not only to raise more revenue but also to reduce the incentive for executives to do whatever it takes to increase the next quarter's profit and bolster their own compensation.
*  To give ordinary workers a real stake, create a universal capital
endowment for every adult - financed through a substantial wealth transfer or estate tax
*  Create a sovereign wealth fund to invest in promising companies
*  Create a government bond that offers a real return - perhaps linked to the rise of average household income - to evade the predatory fees that banks impose on the middle class's investments.


Many thanks to our speaker Carrie Cihak, Dave Gamrath for organizing and emceeing, and Candy Sullivan for hosting this important discussion.


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