Displacement from historic Black neighborhoods. Diversifying Eastside communities. Housing construction on a mass scale. Amazon-powered growth and growth-powered sprawl.
Many changes that the Seattle area is undergoing are apparent to anyone paying attention — from the houses bought, renovated and flipped in the Central District to Bellevue’s burgeoning restaurant scene to the cranes towering over South Lake Union.
But every 10 years, the U.S. census helps confirm and make specific what we can already see.
The area experienced a population boom from 2010 to 2020, powered to a great extent by the tech industry and other sectors that sucked in workers from across the state, country and globe. Seattle grew by 21%, more than twice the rate that it grew in the preceding two decades.
“As long as the economic engines — and there are a lot of economic engines in the Seattle metro area — keep drawing people in for jobs, people are going to continue to come here,” said Mike Mohrman, a demographer with the state Office of Financial Management.
And Seattle grew more diverse. The city’s population of people of color grew by 46%, more than three times as fast as the prior decade. Seattle is now more than 40% people of color, noted Diana Canzoneri, the city’s demographer.
Planners and politicians have only just begun digging into the 2020 census data released this past week, but some points immediately stand out.
It’s no secret that Seattle’s historically Black Central District has gotten less Black in recent years, with many longtime residents leaving amid rising housing costs. And the new census data confirm the population plunge, if not the reason, with striking specificity.
The ZIP code area that encompasses the heart of the Central District gained more than 10,000 people from 2010 to 2020, increasing in population by nearly one-third. It added more than 4,600 white people and more than 3,200 Asian people.
But at the same time, 1,049 Black people, nearly 20% of the Black population there, left the area. The same thing happened in Tacoma’s Hilltop neighborhood, which lost 828 Black residents, even as the area’s overall population grew by more than 1,700.
Skyway and the Rainier Valley and Mount Baker neighborhoods also lost hundreds of Black residents, even as their total populations ballooned by thousands.
The census doesn’t track where people go, but the data matches what community members know: Many Black families moved to South King County.
While most ZIP code areas in the Seattle area saw their Black populations increase at least some, an area in Federal Way gained the most in the state: 3,910 Black residents. SeaTac, Tukwila and Kent saw similar booms in their Black populations.
Not every Black family that left the Central District was pushed out, said Dian Ferguson, executive director at a senior center in the neighborhood. But surging rents, taxes, development and cultural change did spur many departures, Ferguson said.
“It became desirable for people to live close to downtown again, so people with more wealth came in,” she said, noting that a party at the senior center last weekend was “filled with” people who now live in South King County.
The senior center and other institutions connected to Black residents are important because seniors [who still live in the Central District] sometimes tell her “they don’t feel welcome in their own neighborhood,” Ferguson said, mentioning a longtime resident who was asked on the street whether she was lost and needed directions.
Asian, Hispanic growth
In and around Seattle, cities saw their Asian populations swell between 2010 and 2020, according to the new data.
The starkest change in raw numbers occurred in Seattle proper, which grew by more than 41,000 Asian residents, representing a 49% increase.
But Bellevue, Kent, Redmond, Sammamish and Kirkland saw their Asian populations expand 80% to 200%, adding a combined 88,000 residents.
Michael Itti, director of the Chinese Information and Service Center, a Seattle-based social services agency, said it’s important for leaders to recognize the diversity within the Asian population, as they develop services for a growing region.
“The Asian population is not a monolith,” Itti said. “So an employee at Amazon with an H1 visa will have a much different experience than a 1.5 generation Vietnamese American immigrant or a fourth generation Japanese American.”
Across the state, cities added large numbers of Hispanic or Latino residents. Eleven cities saw their Hispanic populations jump by at least 5,000. Seattle, Vancouver and Pasco led the way with a combined increase of 45,000.
Seattle’s Hispanic population grew by 50%, reaching more than 60,000 by 2020, while Vancouver’s grew by 82% and Pasco’s by 33%.
For many years Seattle has seen housing prices rise as fast or faster than anywhere else in the nation. But Seattle has actually built a huge amount of housing over the last decade, seeing that stock keep up with population, to some extent.
Seattle added slightly more than 128,000 people from 2010 to 2020, and at the same time, nearly 60,000 units of housing were added. That’s one new housing unit for every 2.1 new arrivals.
Census data shows Seattle has nearly 23,000 vacant housing units, although that’s down from more than 25,000 vacant units in 2010.
Of course, there’s a chicken-and-egg riddle here — did population growth spur new construction, or did new housing enable more people to move here? The answer is yes.
In either case, a driving force was hiring by Amazon, which brings us to…
We’ve watched as Amazon has transformed Seattle and turned South Lake Union from a patchwork of parking lots, warehouses and low-slung industrial buildings into a buzzing tech hub where, pre-pandemic, tens of thousands of people went to work everyday.
Here’s just how much it exploded.
The ZIP code area centered on South Lake Union and Westlake gained 13,836 residents, more than any other area in Seattle. It grew by 67%.
The area added 8,311 housing units, more than any other ZIP code area in the state.
And it got much more diverse. The area’s white population grew by 16%. But its Black population grew by 69%. Its Hispanic population grew by 135%. Its Asian population grew by a whopping 455%.
North of Seattle
Not all of the Seattle area’s population growth happened in the middle of the city, however. Much also occurred in the suburbs and beyond.
Some of the most dramatic changes between 2010 and 2020 happened in South Snohomish County. Bedroom communities north of Seattle grew rapidly as housing prices in the city exploded.
The ZIP code area that includes Mill Creek and North Creek added more residents than any in the state with a substantial population, welcoming nearly 24,000 people, a 47% increase.
The ZIP code area directly next door, wedged between Martha Lake and Paine Field, also ranked high, adding nearly 11,000 people, a 36% increase.
To put that in perspective, those two areas added about as many people as live in Walla Walla.