The last decade of economic growth in the Pacific Northwest has brought enormous benefits to our shared region – and equally profound challenges. Washington state’s economy has kicked into overdrive, but not all communities have shared equally in the new prosperity afforded to our state. As Spokane leaders who have fought every day to ensure working families have access to the economic opportunities they need to succeed, we’re advocating for an approve vote on Initiative 1000, which will appear under the heading of “Referendum 88” on the ballot in front of voters this year.
Approving Initiative 1000 would protect existing laws that level the playing field of economic opportunity by permitting affirmative action for veterans, women, communities of color and persons with disabilities in Washington state. No one should be discriminated against because of their race, gender, history of military service, or other intrinsic characteristics. Many communities have experienced systemic barriers to equal participation in the economic prosperity afforded to our region, but this is something we can begin to remedy in this election.
When our veterans return to civilian life, they can face unique obstacles to employment or educational opportunities. A military resume can contain unusual job responsibilities, gaps in employment, or other inconsistencies that might not make sense to an employer reviewing mostly civilian applications. Washington state is host to a number of veterans’ preference programs and approving I-1000 would add to those existing programs by opening up new points of entry to public employment, contracting, and university admissions to those who have served our country.
Today in Washington state, due to wage, hiring and advancement disparities, working women are paid only about 78 cents for every dollar a man makes, with women of color experiencing even lower average wages. Latina women earn only 48 cents, and black and native women earn only 62 cents to every dollar of their male counterparts. With most families relying on two incomes to get by each month, wage gaps this wide hurt whole households. An approve vote for I-1000 will help narrow the gap by ensuring more women enter the pipeline for higher education and entrepreneurship, opportunities that can lead to a lifetime of better wages and economic advancement.
Communities of color have been particularly impacted by disparities in economic outcomes across Washington state. When affirmative action was eliminated in our state in 1998, the number of public contracts that went to certified women- and minority-owned business owners was at about 10%. Today, that number is closer to 3%. This represents a $3.5 billion-dollar loss over two decades.
Further, as the demographic tapestry of Washington has become more vibrant and diverse, admissions to our state’s public colleges and universities haven’t kept pace. The number of Latino, black, native and Pacific Islander students admitted to 4-year public colleges hasn’t kept up in proportion to their representation in the population as a whole.
We cannot have shared prosperity without shared opportunity. When some communities are denied chances to succeed in our schools and workplaces because of who they are, those lost opportunities and lost wages hold us all back. We need to say no to discrimination and demand better wages and jobs for everyone.
Voting to approve I-1000 would start to unwind some of the systemic economic disadvantages faced by veterans, women, communities of color and persons with disabilities in Washington state. Forty-two other states in the country already have affirmative action policies in place to help level the playing field for all communities. It’s well past time to join the overwhelming majority of other states who have made a public commitment to ensure better economic outcomes for every citizen. Spokane is a beautiful place to work, play and raise a family. Let’s make sure all our neighbors can share equitably in the prosperity our region has to offer.
State Rep. Marcus Riccelli represents Spokane’s 3rd Legislative District. Larry Valadez is a foundation director of the Hispanic Business/Professional Association.