It may feel like boom times in Seattle, but at least one group is being left out: the city’s black residents.
While Seattle’s median household income soared to an all-time high of $70,200 last year, wages for blacks nose-dived to $25,700 — a 13.5 percent drop from 2012. Among the 50 largest U.S. cities, Seattle now has the ninth lowest income for black households.
Seattle, which has the largest black community in the Pacific Northwest, also lags the country as a whole. Nationally, black households have median earnings of $34,800 — 35 percent higher than Seattle.
While last year’s decline is particularly dramatic, black household wealth in Seattle has in fact been spiraling downward for years. Remarkably, the earnings were higher in 2000 than they are today, before adjusting for inflation: The 2000 household median was $32,000, equal to $44,800 in 2013 dollars.
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Also, the rate of homeownership has dropped by nearly half since 2000. Today, just one out of five black households in Seattle own its home. (The census defines a black household as one in which the person identified on census forms as “householder” is black.)
However, the reasons behind the decline are complex, and the area’s shifting demographics play a key role.
For decades, the Central District was the heart of Seattle’s African-American community — a stable, working-class neighborhood where many residents owned their homes. But with gentrification beginning in the late 1980s, blacks began leaving the neighborhood — and the city. By 2010, the Central District — which was nearly 80 percent black in 1970 — had become majority white.
Despite changes in the CD, Seattle’s overall black population has held steady in number, at around 47,000. But the composition of that population changed dramatically with the arrival of a new wave of émigrés from Africa — particularly Ethiopia and Eritrea — who settled mostly in Rainier Valley. In 2000, just 13 percent of blacks in Seattle were born outside the United States. Today, it’s 30 percent.
Many of those immigrants are low-wage workers, which has contributed to the overall decline in income for black households here.
In an interesting demographic twist, as more whites are moving into the city, more blacks are relocating to the suburbs. If you’re wondering where Seattle’s African-American middle class went, check out parts of King County south of Seattle. In Renton, for example, where the black population has doubled since 2000, the median household income is $42,400 — 65 percent higher than Seattle.
But do demographic shifts alone adequately explain why the black community in affluent Seattle is among the poorest of any big city — and why Seattle’s recent good economic fortune has coincided with less, rather than more, equality?
Related story: For African-American pastor, suburbs a welcome shift