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Cost of living jump in Northwest challenging worker paychecks

Even workers with the same job and same wage are finding it harder and harder to get along in Seattle and other parts of Washington.
Chris Devers
Even workers with the same job and same wage are finding it harder and harder to get along in Seattle and other parts of Washington.

It isn't just the poor and unemployed who are suffering in Seattle and Washington, but people who ten years ago were living comfortably on their wages are now living with a paycheck that doesn't seem to go far enough.

A new study from the University of Washington has found that the cost of living in Seattle and Washington State has risen significantly while worker wages have remained the same.

The study details

The Self-Sufficiency Standard for Washington State 2011 shows that elevating cost of living continued to rise despite wages stagnating and unemployment levels doubling during the recession.

The study shows that as the cost of living continues to rise and wages remain stagnate, living comfortably in Seattle, and the state, proves more and more difficult. Those families who, ten years ago, would have been considered middle-class may now fall below the poverty line.

Below is the self-sufficiency wage for Seattle compared to other U.S. cities in 2011:
(Key: City | Hourly self-sufficiency wage, calculated assuming family uses public transportation)

  1. San Francisco, CA | $28.46
  2. Seattle, WA | $26.94
  3. Philadelphia, PA | $26.58
  4. San Diego, CA | $25.94
  5. Chicago, IL | $24.62
  6. Portland, OR | $23.75
  7. Cleveland, OH | $21.85
  8. Denver, CO | $20.50
  9. Spokane, WA | $19.77
  10. Atlanta, GA | $19.68

Working more, getting less

For a family of two adults and two young kids in Seattle, for example, the cost of living grew by 13 percent since 2009. For a single person, living in Seattle is now 19-percent more expensive. On average, statewide cost of living grew 8 percent.

“Even as wages have stagnated and unemployment doubled during the Great Recession, the cost of meeting basic needs has continued to rise, putting an economic squeeze on families who are struggling to survive in this difficult economy,” said Diana Pearce, author of the report and director of the Center for Women’s Welfare at the UW School of Social Work. Her comments were provided in a press release by UW.

Pearce added that the increase in costs were not due to inflation and occurred even as wages stagnated.

“Even though many people are working hard, they still can’t make ends meet, and these cost increases make it even harder,” she said.

Tough across the state

Statewide, the report found East King County was the most expensive, with a single parent of two young kids needing $65,690 to meet basic needs. That's a 14-percent increase from 2009.

The study covers only very basic expenses such as housing, food, child care, transportation and taxes, and what a family or single person would need to earn in order to cover these costs without public assistance.

“These are bare-bones budgets,” Pearce said. “They cover minimum necessities and leave no room for extras such as a latte or a take-out pizza.”

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