Soon, the flowers will bloom. The festivals have already begun. In the meantime, let’s slip in some data: Island County’s Vitality Index. Dull? Data can be, but data is also one way to see what’s really going on behind the brochures of pretty pictures.
“The Hamilton Project’s Vitality Index is a measure of a place’s economic and social wellbeing.” – The Hamilton Project
Economic data is common. Social wellbeing, well, that’s more subjective, but some objective measures sneak in. They didn’t just do this for Whidbey Island or Island County. It’s a US project, so whatever they’re measuring they’re measuring the same way for everyone.
Skip the suspense. Island County’s Vitality Index = 0.2695. OK. Maybe that’s not useful without some background.
The national number is 0. So, everything else can be positive or negative. King County’s number is 1.1974, one of the highest in the nation. Washington State’s is 0.4259. That means Seattle’s home county gets a lot of attention, but Seattle isn’t the same as Island County and neither matches the rest of the state.
There are reasons for that.
Island County’s median household income is within 10% above the national median, and below the state index by about 10%, nicely in the middle. King County is more than a third higher, one of the main reasons why many islanders live here and work there.
Here’s one place where Island County excels. The poverty rate is under 10% (9.5%). Even King County doesn’t get out of the double digits (10.2%), and it’s better than the state (12.2%), which is better than the nation (14.6%). That’s low but not no poverty.
Such a low poverty rate sounds like high employment, but paradoxically, Island’s employment rate is only 67.8%, much less than Washington’s and the Nation’s ~76.5%. King County’s reputation continues with a stellar 81.4%.
Vacant houses are inevitable, people move out, houses need repairs, temporary assignments mean temporary changes of address. The national number is 12.2%. The state’s number of 8.9% is probably dragged down by King County’s 5.7%. Vacancy rates that low mean not much supply with the demand from a growing population and hence Seattle’s storied real estate industry. Island County goes the other way with a vacancy rate of 17.6%, with some places in the county exceeding 27% thanks to second, third, and whatever extra houses. One weird consequence is that there’s not much supply, regardless of the demand; and the demand is driven by the natural appeal of the islands and their geographical proximity to The Big City. Check a previous post “Is Whidbey Changing” for that data. Those high vacancy rates are the result of lots of vacation, weekender, and short term rental houses.
Put it all together and find more than one answer to whether Island County is vital. One number can’t contain the diverse lifestyles available on the islands. Commuters can like the balance of high income and lower house prices, which are available for the cost of a ferry commute. Working on the island means having found a precious commodity, a job on the island – something that may have a lower paycheck, but at least happens in a community that appeals to many. Retirees may focus on a number that matters to everyone, life expectancy. None of the regions mentioned top Island County’s 81.9 years. That may be the ultimate measure.