AS WE CONSIDER our local community, we have much to be thankful for. Our environment is breathtaking and we have space and places to roam without congestion and traffic. It is paradise for many.
But an area most people agree needs attention is our struggling local economy.
Clallam County has been formally designated as “economically distressed” by federal and state standards for many years. How do we begin to change this? How do we ensure the average Clallam County family can live and work with a good standard of living?
This brings me to what the EDC is doing and why. Overall, we work to help businesses thrive and to promote local employment at good wages.
Today many businesses are struggling, and it is difficult for a resident to find a job at good wages.
It wasn’t always like this.
In 1990 Clallam County’s average job in the private sector paid about $36,400 annually if we measure it in today’s dollars. Was that a “good” wage and how does it compare to average wages today?
One way to answer that question is to look at a “living wage.” Living wages are calculated by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Living Wage Calculator. A living wage is based on people’s expenses for things like food, clothing, transportation, housing and health care.
Back in 1990, the living wage for a family consisting of two adults, one working, with two children, was about $30,000 in today’s dollars.
So, back in 1990, the average family had $6,400 more than was needed to cover necessities. No wonder the local business community thrived! Families had an extra $6,400 to shop locally, frequent food and beverage establishments and travel. Back in 1992, Horizon Airlines offered seven flights a day to Seattle Tacoma International Airport for $50 round trip. That was then and we were thriving.
What about today?
In 2019, the average private sector job paid $35,570 in today’s dollars. The living wage for two adults, one working, and two children for 2021 is $63,039 after taxes. That family has an income $27,469 below a living wage.
What if both adults work? Their combined income would need to be $69,686 after taxes to achieve a living wage for their family of 4. (The living wage is greater when both adults work because of increased costs for child care and transportation).
Working people who struggle have limited means to frequent our local businesses. As the sales of those businesses decline, fewer local jobs are supported. Clallam County has been locked into a spiral of decline for working people for decades.
What can your EDC and local governments do to help to reverse that decline?
The first step is to put the well-being of local working people at the forefront.
The second is to identify the higher paying private sector jobs. Those are the kinds of jobs that will increase the average standard of living for local families.
The third is to figure out how to improve the local economy so those kinds of businesses can expand, and new ones end up locating here.
Those actions lead to the fourth major change. As the economic well-being of local working people improve, so too will their expenditures in the local economy. Those businesses will thrive, expand, and create new jobs and will be able to support higher wages.
That strategic process is what EDC is working on.
I’ll share more about that process next month. Until then, join us for Coffee with Colleen on Zoom on Wednesday mornings at 8 a.m.
Colleen McAleer is the executive director of the Clallam County Economic Development Council.