Only Washington, D.C., has a higher concentration of workers who sit for five or more hours a day. “It’s a lot of sitting,” a software developer says.
What do you love most about living in Seattle?
Ask a few locals and — whether native-born or newcomer — chances are you’ll get an answer similar to Mathew Luebbert’s:
“I think it’s how close we are to such a variety of stuff. The hiking and climbing is a big part of that, but we also have a lot of water close by where you can go kayaking or rowing.”
Luebbert, a software-development manager at Tableau, says that he and wife Colleen Salmi, also a developer, rarely have a weekend that doesn’t include loading up the 4Runner and getting out into nature.
But when it comes to physical exertion, his weekday life is at the opposite extreme.
“It’s a lot of sitting,” he said.
And in that regard, he’s hardly alone.
Seattle, long one of the nation’s capitals of outdoor activity, has more recently become one of its capitals of seated activity.
About 38 percent of Seattleites have a job that typically entails more than five hours of sitting a workday, according to my analysis of new data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That number has increased by 10 percentage points since 2000.
Among the 50 biggest U.S. cities, we rank second behind only Washington, D.C., for the share of workers in these types of jobs.
If you’re picturing some young, glassy-eyed programmer hunched over a laptop — well, you’re not wrong.
But that’s just part of the story.
The trend toward sedentary jobs is more broadly symptomatic of Seattle’s evolution from a more working-class town into an enclave of white-collar professionals.
For sure, tech jobs are leading the way. The number of Seattleites who work in computer and mathematical occupations has more than doubled since 2000. They now make up about 9 percent of the workforce, a higher percentage than you’ll find even in San Francisco or San Jose, Calif.
And these types of workers — coders, developers, database administrators and so on — are the most sedentary of all. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics data, they average six hours and 49 minutes of sitting time a day. That’s more than double the average sit time for all workers, which is three hours and four minutes a day.
Among all computer-related jobs, software developers in particular get a lot of chair time, at seven hours and 13 minutes a day.
That number sounds about right to Luebbert, based on his experience as a developer.
“I recently become a manager, so I think I get up and walk around more than I did a couple months ago,” he said, “but it’s (sitting) most of the morning, a break for lunch, and then most of the afternoon.”
Speaking of managers, you don’t hear about them nearly as much as tech workers, but their ranks have also swelled. The number of Seattleites who hold management positions has increased 77 percent since 2000, placing them just behind tech workers for growth.
Managers are not quite as desk-bound as tech workers, but with a sit time of five hours and 24 minutes, they’re among the most sedentary workers.
The third fastest-growing type of occupation among Seattleites is in the field of business and finance, such as financial analysts, market researchers, accountants and so on. These workers average more than six hours of sitting per day, ranking second only to tech for inactivity.
The flip side of this trend is that many blue-collar workers — machinists, mechanics, electricians — have declined in number in the Seattle population since 2000. Sure, you see more construction workers on the job than ever, but fewer of them live within the city limits. And these are workers, of course, who tend to be much less sedentary, typically spending less than two hours of sitting time per day.
But not all workers who spend most of the day on their feet are in decline here. Servers, cooks and others folks who work in food service have increased by a healthy 39 percent in Seattle’s working population. They spend a mere 16 minutes sitting per day on average. Perhaps something to think about that next time you calculate the tip.
As the makeup of Seattle’s workforce continues to shift, how much of our passion for outdoor recreation — not to mention bike commuting, yoga, crossfit classes and so on — is being driven by the sedentary nature of our work environments?
“To some extent it’s a conscious choice to get out and do stuff even if it’s not nice out, and a big part of it is offsetting being sedentary at work,” Luebbert said.
As for this weekend? Weather permitting, he plans to summit Mount St. Helens.