A six-figure income is still out of reach for most Americans — less than one-third of U.S. households take home $100,000 or more in a year.
Seattle, of course, isn’t like most of America.
Census data released last month shows the Emerald City hit a milestone of affluence in 2020: In more than half of the city’s census tracts, the majority of households have an income of at least $100,000. (There are 177 census tracts in Seattle, and 93 of them — that’s 53% — met that income threshold).
It’s the first time that’s happened. In the 2019 data release, six-figure-income households were the majority in 48% of the city’s tracts.
As you’d expect, many of the city’s high-income tracts hug the waterfront, running along Puget Sound or Lake Washington. North and Central Seattle also have a number of inland tracts where the majority of households make $100,000 or more.
One neighborhood stands out for the dominance of six-figure-income households. In North Seattle’s Laurelhurst, 91% of households earn more than $100,000, making it the neighborhood most skewed toward higher incomes.
The Madrona/Denny-Blaine and Montlake neighborhoods, both in Central Seattle, tie for second, with around 79% of households in the six-figure-income tier.
These neighborhoods, like most of those in the top tier for income, are residential areas that largely consist of owner-occupied single-family homes. But in the past decade, many of Seattle’s more urban neighborhoods have also grown tremendously in affluence.
In fact, three of the neighborhoods in the top 10 for income are in Central Seattle, and made up primarily of apartment and condo dwellers. These include the Westlake neighborhood, the Belltown waterfront, and the western half of South Lake Union. In all three areas, more than 70% of households have incomes of $100,000 or more.
The 84 Seattle census tracts in which most households make less than $100,000 are spread across the city, but they are most concentrated in Rainier Valley and the interior of West Seattle.
Most of these 84 tracts have a mix of lower-, middle- and upper-income households. But there are a small number that skew heavily toward the lower end of the income spectrum.
In a dozen Seattle tracts, the majority of households earn less than $50,000. Most of these are clustered around the University of Washington in North Seattle. College students make up a large percentage of the population here, which explains the lower incomes.
The rest of the tracts where most households earn less than $50,000 are located in a few city neighborhoods. These include the northernmost section of Bitter Lake and part of Northgate; the Chinatown International District and Yesler Terrace; and a section of Beacon Hill that includes NewHolly, a large mixed-income community.
While there are only a handful of neighborhoods where the majority of households earn less than $50,000, Seattle has an even rarer income bracket: Households that earn between $50,000 and $99,000.
This is what most of America would probably call middle income, but in Seattle, there isn’t a single census tract where households in this income tier are in the majority. The neighborhood that comes closest is Interbay, which lies between Queen Anne and Magnolia in Central Seattle. Forty-seven percent of households here earn between $50,000 and $99,000.
Citywide, slightly less than one-quarter of Seattle households earn between $50,000 and $99,000, and about 27% earn less than $50,000. Nearly half (49%) make $100,000 or more.
However, here’s something to consider about the census data. These income figures are calculated by taking an average of five years’ worth of data — in other words, the 2020 release is actually an average of the data from 2016 to 2020. The Census Bureau uses five-year averages to increase the sample size, which improves the accuracy of data for relatively small areas like census tracts.
But it also means that the figures are a little out of date, even though they were just released. Most likely, incomes in Seattle in 2022 are even higher than these numbers show.