Washington drops to No. 22 on new Opportunity Washington Scorecard

Today we released the Winter 2019 Opportunity Scorecard. The overall dashboard gauge shows a 3-spot decline from 19th among the states to 22nd. Washington remains well out of the top 10 in our key measures of performance: Achieve (education), Connect (transportation), and Employ (economic vitality). Please watch this short video to learn more about it.

When Opportunity Washington got underway in 2014, we spent a lot of time meeting with community members, business owners, and civic leaders in every part of the state, from large cities to small towns. 
 
Our goal: To understand what issues mattered most and how we could work together to make sure that our state’s unique culture of opportunity extends to every Washingtonian. 
 
We found an uncommon level of agreement on what we came to call Priorities for Shared Prosperity. The priorities are three: ACHIEVE (educational quality and outcomes), CONNECT(transportation), and EMPLOY (economic vitality).

To measure progress, we created the Scorecard, using key measures of performance in each of the three priority areas. We examine 16 variables across the categories of Achieve, Connect, and Employ. The dials are set so the score of the 10th best state is 100, and the median state is set 75. From there, the analysis produces a weighted average or “Opportunity Score” for each state. The goal is to make Washington a top 10 state overall and in each category.
 
Overall, as the video reports, Washington ranks 22nd among the states. The component rankings among the 50 states place Washington at:
  • ACHIEVE: 25th
  • CONNECT: 35th
  • EMPLOY: 20th
In no area do we hit the top 10 goal. 

Unfortunately, we fell seven spots in the critical education performance category of Achieve. This is due to an incremental drop in graduation rate from 79.7 for the class of 2016 to 79.4 for the class of 2017, while other states moved ahead. Washington also saw drops in 4th grade reading and 8th grade math performance, as well as lower associate’s and bachelor’s degrees awarded per capita. The bright spots include increases in STEM bachelor’s and master’s degrees awarded per capita.

Our Connect ranking rose one rung, from 36 to 35. The average commute time increased slightly from 27.8 minutes to 28.4 minutes, but conditions of existing state highways improved.  Such improvement was expected with continued implementation of the 2015 Connect Washington investment package. Further gains, however, may be threatened as the Legislature addresses the passage of I-976, which also faces a legal challenge, but, as written, calls for dramatic funding cuts for transportation.

Our Employ measure shows that] Washington remains a high-cost state for employers. Business taxes per employee increased from $7,000 to $7,800 per year in Washington, and our state’s Tax Climate Index dropped slightly from 5.4 to 5.3. However, the unemployment insurance tax per employee dropped from $545 to $496, driving the slight improvement in Washington’s Employ ranking.

A methodological note: Achieve and Employ data each make up 40 percent of the Opportunity Score; Connect makes up 20 percent. (Access the data sources and FAQ for detail on the methodology). Changes in the rankings are dynamic. Even with improved performance, Washington can fall behind if other states demonstrate more rapid progress.