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December 2017

News in Brief

  • Researchers at the University of Minnesota have been working on measuring transit access to jobs as part of their "Access Across America" project to identify the top regions where jobs are within reach for transit riders. Using detailed data on population, employment, and transit schedules, the rankings with how many jobs residents can typically access via bus or train in a given amount of time. The more jobs are within reach of more people in less time, the better a region's ranking will be. The top ten metro areas with best job accessibility by transit are: 1) New York, 2) San Francisco, 3) Chicago, 4) Washington, DC, 5) Los Angeles, 6) Boston, 7) Philadelphia, 8) Seattle, 9) San Jose, and 10) Denver.

  • State revenues have increased by $319 million for the current two-year state budget, which is now projected to be about $44.4 billion, according to the Office of Financial Management. The state is projected to have nearly $2.8 billion in reserves by the end of the biennium. Legislative leaders in the House and Senate will release their budget proposals during the 60-day legislative session that begins in January.


  • Seattle's income tax on wealthy households failed its first legal test, with a King County Superior Court ruling that the measure is illegal. The city intends to appeal the decision directly to the State Supreme Court. The Seattle City Council unanimously voted to approve of the measure, which would impose a 2.25 percent tax on total income above $250,000 for individuals and above $500,000 for married couples filing together provided that they reside in Seattle. The city estimates it would raise about $140 million a year.


  • Consumer sentiment in November cooled from a 13-year high while remaining at levels that signal Americans will open their wallets for holiday purchases, according to a University of Michigan survey. The consumer-sentiment index fell to 98.5 from 100.7 in October. While confidence in both consumers' current financial situation and their expectations eased, sentiment still matches the second-highest level since 2004. Survey respondents voiced more certainty about the outlook for incomes, employment and inflation.


  • F5 Networks signed a lease last spring for 28 floors (516,000 square feet) in the Mark, a new 48-floor office and hotel edifice in downtown Seattle. According to the Seattle Times, the deal capped a hunt for a new headquarters that in 2019 will provide the company with room to grow and its employees with nearby transit, restaurants and other amenities.


  • According to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, Americans are running up their credit cards, taking out more auto loans and borrowing more to purchase homes and pay for college. Total household debt reached a record high of nearly $13 trillion in the July-September quarter. The steady rise in household debt suggests Americans are more confident about the economy and their own finances. So far, Americans' finances are in much better shape than a decade ago. Just 3.2 percent of household debt is 90 days or more overdue, down from a peak of 8.7 percent in 2010. However, auto loans have jumped 45 percent in the past four years, and more Americans are falling behind. Nearly 4 percent of car loans are 90 days or more overdue, up from 2.8 percent a decade ago (still below the 5.27 percent peak seven years ago).


  • U.S. home prices rose at the fastest pace in more than three years in September, lifted by a record-low supply of houses for sale. Seattle posted the highest year-over-year increase, topping all other cities by a hefty margin. The Standard & Poor's CoreLogic Case-Shiller national home price index released late November rose 6.2 percent in September from a year earlier, the largest gain since June 2014. In 13 of the 20 cities tracked by the index, yearly price gains in September were faster than in August. The number of homes for sale in September was the fewest for that month on records dating back to 2001, according to the National Association of Realtors. And home builders aren't yet putting up enough new homes to reduce the supply crunch. Seattle, Las Vegas and San Diego reported the highest year-over-year gains. Home prices jumped 12.9 percent in Seattle, 9 percent in Las Vegas and 8.2 percent in San Diego. Las Vegas, one of the hardest-hit cities in the housing bust, has been making a comeback since prices bottomed out in 2012. Unemployment is low and the economy is growing at a solid clip, fueling demand for homes. Mortgage rates also remain historically low, with the average rate on a 30-year mortgage below 4 percent. Yet Americans are remaining in their homes longer, according to a recent survey by the Realtors. Many are reluctant to sell because there are so few other homes to buy.