Government can’t solve all of society’s problems, but you have to applaud King County’s willingness to put out its annual Equity and Social Justice report for the sixth straight year. Released in late November, this document is a fascinating read because it measures access to those opportunities that are necessary for people to be healthy and prosper.
It will take years to reform a system that has inadvertently created inequity for many of the county’s estimated 2 million residents, but at least county officials acknowledge that disparities persist, and are taking action to reverse negative trends.
Read Friday’s editorial on the report, then come back here to look at the heat map below.
This is a powerful snapshot of where health and economic disparities are clustered throughout King County. The red areas (concentrated in South King County) are most impacted by risk factors such as adverse child experiences, mental distress, smoking, obesity and diabetes. Add in poor housing conditions and fewer jobs, and we see that the average person in the Auburn area might live for 74 years compared to someone in the Redmond area, where the populations are least impacted by risk factors and life expectancy is 87 years.
I hope readers do not view this map and assume that anyone who lives in Tukwila and Federal Way is unhealthy. Rather, this map is an opportunity to see where disparities are the most obvious, and to encourage lawmakers to invest time and resources in those areas where they are most needed.
As the editorial mentions, there are many ways the county is trying to close opportunity gaps. Change will take time to see, but we have to start somewhere. We have to measure the results. We have to keep trying.