By and large, Seattle-area residents haven’t squirreled away their stimulus checks, and they haven’t splurged on something fun. They’ve used the money just to get by.
New data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows that more than three out of four adults — that’s about 2.5 million people — in King, Pierce and Snohomish counties have received a stimulus payment from the federal government through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security, or CARES, Act.
Among those who received the money, the great majority — 1.8 million — have used it, or plan to use it, toward household expenses. Only about 393,000 have put the money into savings, and 330,000 to pay off debts.
For most individuals, the stimulus payment amounts to $1,200. That’s not a huge amount of help for a household facing unemployment or reduced hours. At best, it’s a short-term fix. But every little bit helps, and Seattle-area residents are using that money for the most basic necessities.
Food is the No. 1 household expense Seattle-area residents are buying with their stimulus check — 67% of recipients have used, or plan to use, at least some of the money toward food.
Utilities, cellphone bills and household items are other top expenditures.
What about fun stuff like electronics, home furnishings or fitness equipment for the home gym? Those types of purchases are at the bottom of the list, at well below 10%.
There is, unsurprisingly, a very large discrepancy between the way lower-income individuals in Seattle have spent their stimulus money compared with those with higher incomes.
For folks who live in a household with an income of less than $50,000, nearly all (91%) have put the money directly toward their expenses. But for those with a six-figure income, only 54% used the money for expenses. These more affluent recipients were much more likely to put the money into savings, or to use it to pay off debts.
Not everyone in the Seattle area has gotten a stimulus check. About 673,000 people, or 21% of the adult population, have not received, or don’t expect to receive, a payment. That’s significantly higher than the national average of 14% of adults.
Why are the numbers so much higher here? There are several factors.
Some people are simply too well off to qualify for a payment, and that situation is probably more common in affluent Seattle than many other parts of the country. If you earn $99,000 or more as an individual or $198,000 as a married couple, you aren’t eligible to receive a stimulus check.
Among the 15 largest metro areas, Seattle has the third-highest percentage of people who haven’t received a payment. The two that are even higher are also wealthy areas: Washington, D.C., and San Francisco.
Another group that isn’t eligible for the payment — and many of whom could really use it — are college students (ages 18 to 24) who are still listed as dependents on their parents tax returns. The census data shows that in the Seattle area, 26% of 18- to 24-year-olds haven’t received a payment, higher than our metro’s average.
Because only people who have a Social Security number are eligible for the stimulus payment, many immigrants don’t qualify, even if they filed taxes using an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN). Controversially, any American citizen who is married to an immigrant without a Social Security number is also ineligible for the stimulus payment.
Seattle has a high percentage of foreign-born residents compared with the national average, and that’s probably another reason why so many here haven’t received a stimulus check.
The data shows that in our area, a larger percentage of Asian (36%) and Hispanic (29%) people have not received a payment compared with white people (20%). But among Black people, only 1% have not gotten a check.
This data comes from the Household Pulse Survey, a new endeavor by the U.S. Census Bureau, working in conjunction with five other federal agencies. Unlike other census products, which have a long lag time, the Household Pulse Survey provides near real-time data.
These statistics are intended to help inform officials and policymakers about the impacts of the pandemic on communities across the country, and to provide data to aid in the post-pandemic recovery.
The Household Pulse Survey publishes new data on a weekly basis, and includes data for the 15 largest metro areas (Seattle just makes the cut at No. 15). For this column, I used the most recent release available, with data collected from June 11 to 16.
The number of respondents varies from week to week. For the survey I used, there were more than 73,000 respondents nationally, and more than 1,300 in Seattle.
The opinions expressed in reader comments are those of the author only and do not reflect the opinions of The Seattle Times.