Seattle's median household income soars past $100,000 — but wealth doesn't reach all

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The Seattle Space Needle and downtown skyline with Mount Rainier in the background in Seattle, Washington. - Donald Miralle/Getty Images North America/TNS

For Seattle, the 2010s were marked by the explosive growth of two things: Population and income.

Regarding population, the city ended the decade with the distinction as the fastest-growing big city in the U.S. So it seems only fitting that when it comes to income, Seattle should also close out the previous 10-year stretch with a milestone.

And according to data released by the U.S. Census Bureau last week, Seattle did just that, crossing over into six-figure territory.

The median income for the roughly 345,000 households inside Seattle’s city limits hit $102,500 in 2019, up about $9,000 from 2018. The median is the midway point — in other words, half the households earned more, and half earned less. So the median is telling us that more than half the households in Seattle have six-figure incomes now. If your household earns less than $100,000, you’re in the minority now.

(A household, in census terminology, consists of all the people living in a housing unit. It could be a single person, a family, or unrelated people such as roommates or domestic partners.)

Seattle has joined two other West Coast tech hubs — San Francisco ($123,900) and San Jose, California ($115,900) — as the only U.S. cities, among the 50 most populous, to cross the $100,000 threshold. Those two cities did it quite a bit earlier, in 2016.

At the beginning of the decade, shortly before the Amazon boom was underway, Seattle’s median household income was just $60,200 — about 20% higher than the national median household income at that time. As of 2019, Seattle is 56% higher than the national median, currently $65,700.

Looking over the numbers for major American cities underlines how wide the gap is between the decade’s “winners” and “losers” of the new tech economy.

Incomes in Seattle and our peer cities — San Francisco, Portland, Denver, Boston, Austin, Washington, D.C. — have increased by 50% or more since 2010 (not adjusting for inflation). But in many other major cities, incomes have increased far more slowly. In Memphis, Las Vegas, and Bakersfield, California, the median household inched up by less than 20% over the course of the decade.

Among the 50 largest U.S. cities, Detroit had the lowest median household income in 2019, at just $34,000.

Seattle affluence hit another milestone in 2019. For the city’s roughly 50,000 married couples with kids younger than 18, the median household income passed the $200,000 mark for the first time, hitting $202,000.

Reading this column so far, you might get the sense that everyone in Seattle is making bank. But of course, that’s not the case.

While 52% of households are making $100,000 or more, more than one-quarter (26%) earn less than $50,000, which is not much money considering the cost-of-living in Seattle. Only about 22% of Seattle household have incomes in between, from $50,000 to $99,000.

I have written about Seattle’s racial income gap in the past — it’s nothing new — but it’s worth another look with the new data.

For a Seattle household headed by a white or Asian person, the median income was about $112,000 in 2019. For households headed by a Black person, the median income was $43,500. For a household headed by a Native American/Alaska Native, the estimate was even lower: $34,500.

The ratio of white to Black median household incomes — 2.6 times higher — is remarkable, but there are cities where the gap is even bigger. In San Francisco and Miami, white households have a median income 3.3 times higher than Black households. Seattle ranks ninth among the 50 largest cities.

The median income for Black households in Seattle is about the same as the national median for Black households ($43,900).

Median incomes for Asian households in Seattle have been increasing at a faster rate than those of white households. And last year marked the first time that the median income of Asian households matched that of white households, surely a sign of the changing demographics of the city’s Asian community.

The median income for households in Seattle headed by a Hispanic person was $78,600, and $100,600 for households headed by a multiracial person.

As you’d expect, households headed by very young people, or by seniors, have a much lower median income than those headed by folks in their peek earning years.

The Census Bureau data for 2019 incomes includes all places with a population of at least 50,000. There are 20 cities in Washington that meet this population threshold.

Among them, the most affluent is Sammamish, with a median household income of $188,100. It ranks second in the U.S., behind San Ramon, Calif., among cities with at least 50,000 people. The suburbs Redmond, Bellevue and Kirkland all have median household incomes higher than Seattle’s.

The poorest city in the state is Yakima, with a median of just $44,300.

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©2020 The Seattle Times