From hamburgers to haircuts, things are becoming more expensive in the Seattle area. But are high wages here enough to offset the increases? Well, many people are just scraping by.
The cost of living in Seattle is higher than it’s ever been — but don’t people here also make a lot money, offsetting those costs?
You can certainly find evidence of this region’s affluence by looking at the latest tax-return data from the IRS, which is broken out by ZIP code.
In total, 1.81 million tax returns were filed in 2015 by people living in the ZIP codes that cover King, Snohomish, and Pierce counties. And of those, more than one in four reported an adjusted gross income in excess of $100,000. The average income for filers in this elite group was $237,000.
But how are the rest of us faring? Well, it turns out a great many are scraping by.
Almost exactly half the tax returns filed in the Seattle area — 901,000 of them — reported an adjusted gross income of less than $50,000. In King County alone, half a million returns reported income under that threshold.
Remarkably, the majority of folks in the under-$50,000 income bracket are actually making less than $25,000.
The median earnings for a worker in the Seattle area is about $42,000, according to census data. So it’s not all that surprising that the group of filers reporting less than $50,000 is so large. It also includes many more who only have part-time employment, are unemployed, or unable to work. Another large group are likely seniors, many of whom live primarily off of their Social Security benefit. Add to that college students who, if they earn a certain amount of money, are required to file with the IRS.
And all these folks are facing rapidly rising costs on their modest incomes. In my previous column, I wrote how Seattle, just in the last couple years, has become one of the most expensive places to live in the U.S. Local consumers are paying top dollar for a slew of items ranging from hamburgers to haircuts, not to mention rent.
The IRS data brings this area’s wealth gap into sharp focus.
Those 50 percent of Seattle-area filers who make less than $50,000? Collectively, they took in just 13 percent of the overall income.
Folks reporting more than $200,000 represent about 7.5 percent of the total, but they took in almost 40 percent of the income.
The data also reveal a huge divide between the earnings of married and single people.
Of those reporting less than $50,000, the overwhelmingly majority — 70 percent — are single filers. In fact, there are only four ZIP codes in our metro area where the majority of single filers make more than $50,000. Three are in downtown Seattle neighborhoods, and the other — 98004 — includes West Bellevue and adjacent areas.
Conversely, there are only three ZIP codes in the Seattle metro area where the majority of joint filers report income of less than $50,000. All three are in Pierce County.
In fact, the poorest ZIP codes in our area are in Pierce County and south King County. The ZIP code with the lowest income that is inside Seattle city limits is 98108, which includes part of Beacon Hill, Georgetown and South Park. Two-thirds of the residents in this area reported income of less than $50,000.
Of course, we have no shortage of affluent residents, particularly on the Eastside and in parts of Seattle.
But even in our wealthiest neighborhoods, there are still a sizable number of residents with low earnings. Sammamish’s 98074 had the smallest share of low-income filers of any ZIP code, but even here, 28 percent were below the $50,000 mark.
When it comes to the average income, one ZIP code stands far apart — but that’s what happens when you have a billionaire or two in the neighborhood. With an average reported income of nearly $700,000, our area’s wealthiest ZIP code is Medina’s 98039.
Correction: An earlier version of this column misstated the median earnings for workers in the Seattle area.