In 2017, then-Seattle Mayor Ed Murray vowed that his city would “shine a light and offer a different vision.” He envisioned a Seattle where all 4-year-olds attended preschool, where all high-school graduates had access to free community college and where strict labor standards guaranteed the lowliest worker a reasonable standard of living.
Fewer than four years later, that dream remains unrealized.
Like much of the country in the wake of the COVID-19 lockdowns, the region suffers double-digit unemployment. Seattle’s vaunted minimum wage is meaningless to those who can’t find work. The city faces a significant budget shortfall, crumbling infrastructure and bitter infighting among its progressive political class. Images of Seattle’s anarchic “autonomous zone” recently filled television screens and social-media feeds nationwide.
What went wrong?
Lots. Social benefits for the poor aren’t worth much if the poor can’t afford housing in the city that offers them. A family looking to find a place to live in Seattle must navigate a market where the median two-bedroom apartment lists for more than $2,600 per month.
Jacob Vigdor is an adjunct fellow at the Manhattan Institute, the Daniel J. Evans Professor of Public Policy and Governance at the University of Washington, and a research associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research. This piece was adapted from City Journal.
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