In the 2010s, Seattle’s transformative decade, rising income was among the more remarkable stories. For Seattle households, the median income soared to the third highest among major U.S. cities, behind only San Francisco and San Jose, California.
But as the number of affluent Seattle households ballooned, not everyone shared in the wealth. As I’ve chronicled in my column, there has been a large, persistent income gap between white households and those households headed by a person of color.
But one of those racial income gaps is no more. The latest census shows that the gap between white and Asian households has not just narrowed — it’s been completely erased.
And it happened over the course of just a handful of years, from 2015 to 2019.
At the beginning of the last decade, Asian households had a median income of just under $50,000. That was just about the same as Hispanic households, and more than 30% lower than the median for white households ($67,000).
Not much changed through 2014, with incomes remaining under $60,000 for Asian households. But at that point, they began to climb. They had a huge jump from 2017 to 2018, when the median soared by nearly $20,000, hitting $95,000. It took another big leap to bring the estimate to $112,000 in 2019, equaling white households. (In 2019, there were about 55,500 Asian households in Seattle.)
Looking back on the decade, the median income for Asian households in Seattle grew by 125% from 2010 to 2019, faster than any other group.
While the city’s white and Asian households now have parity, there remains a significant income gap with Hispanic households ($79,000 median) and, in particular, Black households ($44,000 median).
The median is the midway point, meaning half the households make less and half the households make more. The census figures are estimates, so there is some wiggle room there — think of them more as ballpark figures than precise numbers.
It should be noted that while Asian households in Seattle had a lower median income than white households until 2019, this was not the case nationwide. Asian households have had the highest median income of any racial/ethnic group in the U.S. for decades.
But keep in mind that within any broader racial category there are many diverse ethnicities, and income gaps exist between them. According to the Pew Research Center, Asian households are the most economically divided of any racial group in the U.S.
Nationally, the highest median incomes are for households headed by a person of Indian ancestry, at about $127,000 in 2019. Households headed by a person of Taiwanese or Filipino ancestry also had a median in excess of $100,000. But at the other end of the spectrum, households headed by a person of Burmese heritage had a median income of just $46,000.
Seattle’s Asian population numbered about 125,000 in 2019, or nearly 17% of the city’s total. About one-third of Seattle’s Asian population has Chinese ancestry. The other largest Asian groups are of Filipino, Indian, Vietnamese, Korean and Japanese ancestry.
In Seattle, the main driver of rising incomes has been, of course, the growth of tech. As the city solidified its standing as one of the nation’s premier tech hubs, thousands of high-paying jobs were created, and the median income began to climb rapidly.
As of 2019, the median income for all Seattle households was $102,500.
The creation of all those well-compensated tech jobs played a major role in the rising incomes for both white and Asian households in Seattle in the past decade, as both groups are very well represented in this industry. In 2019, about 57% of workers employed in computer and mathematical jobs in Seattle were white, and 31% were Asian, according to census estimates.
It’s worth taking a moment to define what the Census Bureau calls “household income.” I suspect that many people see the term and think of it interchangeably with salaries or earnings, but that isn’t the case.
Household income includes contributions by all members of the household, whether related or not, age 15 and older. Of course, wages are a major part of household income, but it also includes interest, dividends, income from rental properties, royalties, public assistance, and disability and retirement incomes (Social Security, pensions, etc.).
Because household income includes the contributions of everyone in the household, a larger household with two or more working adults can easily have a higher household income than an individual who lives alone, even if that individual has a good salary.