Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Our Seattle Socialist Saint

Seattle has traditionally boasted a small hotbed of radicalism flaming among its solid citizen bourgeoisie. This has  led to an interesting counterbalance of politically correct liberals providing a public face to the rest of the U.S. while Amazon, Microsoft, and Starbucks carry on the time-honored role of the robber barons. Our mayor is in a solid, same-sex, inter-racial marriage, Columbus Day is soon to be renamed Indigenous Peoples Day (which brings up images of white people thronging the malls to shop the Indigenous Peoples Day Sales), and on the city council is a real honest-to-god, card-carrying Socialist, a woman of color to boot.

Don't gasp just yet--there's more. Kshama Sawant is a PhD from Mumbai who emigrated to the U.S. as an academic in economics and a trailing spouse of a Microsoft engineer. She was propelled to her city council seat by her campaign to raise Seattle's minimum wage to a national high of $15 an hour, a dazzling idea that will be phased in over a period of years, by which time $15 will be a poverty-level wage in this Cascadia boomtown.

Nevertheless, despite revealing herself as a woman more than able to cut backroom deals and water down campaign promises, Sawant has achieved international fame in the pages of the Guardian, Forbes, and New York. And this month in the upscale city magazine, Seattle, the grey eminence of local liberals, Knute Berger, has all but canonized her.

"To insist on a $40,000 salary in Seattle is to take a vow of poverty," Berger gushes, going on to marvel that Kshama Sawant will give "some $70,000 per year" from her "tax-payer-funded income" of $117,000 "to her pet causes." Speculating that perhaps Sawant has a trust fund, Berger touchingly confides that the cost of living in the sixth most-expensive city in America (and #41 world-wide) makes living on "$40K per year--even with benefits--a challenge these days."

I buy Seattle perhaps four times a year as a dose of reality therapy, to prove that the working-class city that I fell in love with in the 80's is gone-baby-gone. In the past year alone, rents in the city of Seattle have easily tripled and my $800 a month one-bedroom apartment in Chinatown is on its way to becoming mythical.

I'm lucky. I live in one of the few downtown neighborhoods that still is affordable to people who live on much less than $40K per year. My own income is about half of that and many of my neighbors live on less. Seattle is not where any of us live. None of us can dream of buying the $3,300 liquor cabinet, the $1,400 pendant light, or the amusing maple, leather and glass table mirror that would set us back a mere $245. Hand-drawn wallpaper will never adorn our small apartments nor will we leave our domiciles wearing Italian stretch wool crop trousers in granite ($380, by a local designer from Bellevue).

When I look at the bungalows that were for sale thirty years ago for $20K, all of them built for blue-collar laborers back in the early 1900s, now inhabited by young urban professionals who paid at least several hundred thousand dollars for them, my stomach tightens. Seattle's current workforce lives in studios that are considered reasonable at $1000 a month. Unless they live in Chinatown--but even that bailiwick of economic sanity is under siege, with tracks laid down for "the latest in Seattle mass transit," the First Hill Streetcar. Seattle is famous for installing cute transit options through down-at-the-heel neighborhoods, with spit and celotex condos following close behind.

Our current mayor believes "public employees should be decently paid" and with the city council drawing $117,000 a year per head, I'd say he is meeting his goal. But he isn't fiscally irresponsible--the superintendent of City Light will receive a mere $60,000 raise to his salary of $245,000. It makes one wonder what the mayor's salary is, while knowing damn well that it's stratospherically above the $31,000 dollars that would be made at one of those yet-to-materialize (full-time) minimum wage jobs at $15 an hour.

Sawant's answer to this? Cap city wages at $150,000 a year. My answer to this? I'm counting the years on one hand before I move--where? Everett, Tacoma, and Bremerton are all undergoing massive rent increases. I'm thinking Tucson...


Sherry said...

I dunno about Tucson. Years ago it was a cheap place to live, but now that so many of us aging boomers are looking for sun and easy climes I think it's become pretty pricey too.
I keep looking at tiny towns.. hoping to find a paradiso yet to be "discovered". Mostly I think we are destined to keep being a couple decades late and a couple hundred thousand short..
We sure will make interesting bag ladies.

Janet Brown said...

Compared to Alaska and Seattle it's still affordable--casitas range from 500-800. No salt water but there are border crossings to compensate--let's go!