Sequim's haves and have-nots
Off the beat
I like Charlie Brown. I especially enjoy the holiday season and dusting off my DVD of "Charlie Brown and the Great Pumpkin," which I can savor until the "Charlie Brown Christmas Special" hits the airwaves.
Maybe Charlie Brown epitomizes the underdog, or Linus still has an innocence that is unfazed by peer pressure, or Lucy is the self-centered leader of her pack. Of course Snoopy is just "Joe Cool." Whether in comic or cartoon form, Charlie Brown takes me to a better place.
In many people's eyes, Sequim may have some comparisons to the world of Charlie Brown. Others might say "Green Acres" or "Mayberry" and all might be true if you never peeled back the veneer of our community.
Poverty in Sequim?
The 2000 census found that more than 12 percent of the Sequim population was living in poverty, today the estimate is at 14 percent. That means that Sequim is nearly a full percentage point above the U.S. average.
Defining poverty is a tricky thing, but the federal government defines it by income level. For one person that would equate to an annual income of $10,830, for a family of four that level would rise to $22,050.
Sure, Sequim is a destination retirement community, so you anticipate the median age in town would be higher, as it is, and the income levels would be lower, which they are.
About 11 percent of the seniors age 65 or over in our community are living in poverty. Even more startling, nearly 20 percent of those under age 18 and 17 percent of our high school graduates who are not in families are living in poverty.
We often hear about the lack of family living-wage jobs in our community. We also hear some negative comments about growth or big box stores in Sequim. The only reason that city services have not been drastically cut is that local sales tax revenues are again the life buoy for Sequim.
With the expansion of Walmart, a new Ross Dress for Less and a grocer all coming to town during a recession, our city is doing better than many other small towns. Certainly these employers are not renowned for providing true family living-wage jobs but they are bringing jobs to Sequim.
The haves and the have-nots
Bell Hill is actually a census-recognized community while nearby Sunland is not. The two areas bracket Sequim to the south and north. They are neither inside the city limits nor in the urban growth area for Sequim.
Sources quote Bell Hill as having a population of 731. Based on the per-capita income levels of Bell Hill residents, one of the more reliable measures of affluence, Bell Hill ranks 21st of 522 areas in the state of Washington to be ranked; it is the highest ranked area in Clallam County.
It's easy to say that the immediate Sequim area has a lot of haves and a significant number of have-nots, yet too few family living-wage-job earners.
Service above self?
Many Sequim residents have celebrated Thanksgiving by helping out the Sequim Food Bank or serving meals at a homeless shelter or supporting the activities of the Sequim Senior Activity Center, the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Olympic Peninsula or any number of other helping agencies; it is a gesture of service and selflessness.
For those who have not yet made that personal acknowledgment of the abundance so many of us enjoy, I encourage you to use this season of Thanksgiving to recalibrate your gratitude and peel back the veneer of our community to remind yourself of the stark edges of American prosperity and the suddenness with which life can veer off course.
Helping your fellow citizen now in this season will return to you a sense of well-being of good service, the relief of re-entering your own life, but perhaps above all a sense of humility.
My wife loves watching "The Wizard of Oz" this time of the year. Frankly, the flying monkeys always have been somewhat terrorizing for me.
Although Dorothy woke up back in hard times, she gained a new sense of what really mattered in her life. Like Dorothy, let's adopt a restored sense of reality and a greater expectation of ourselves as a community.
This is a community that has a lot to offer when called upon for service, to be able to give thanks again for who we really are, for our better nature, as well as for the riches we enjoy.
Robert Spinks is former Sequim chief of police. Reach him at robertbythe email@example.com.
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