The pandemic changed a lot of things about Seattle, but here’s one thing that’s continued unabated: The city kept growing wealthier.
Census data released last week shows the median household income in Seattle hit a new high of about $110,800 in 2021. Nationally, the median household income was $69,700. The median represents the midway point — in other words, half the households made more and half the households made less.
This is the first income data for Seattle and other cities from the U.S. Census Bureau since 2019. The bureau was unable to release figures for 2020 due to difficulties collecting data. In 2019, Seattle’s median household income was $102,500.
Seattle ranked third for income among the 50 most-populous U.S. cities, behind two other tech hubs, San Jose and San Francisco, California. But we moved closer to No. 2 San Francisco, where income did not increase from 2019. The median in San Francisco was $121,800, while San Jose ranked No. 1 at $126,400.
These three cities were the only ones, among the 50 largest, where the median household income exceeded $100,000.
At the other end of the spectrum, the median in Cleveland was $36,600. Detroit and Memphis rounded out the bottom three.
There were nearly 352,000 households in Seattle in 2021. Households, as defined by the census, include all types of housing except “group quarters,” such as college dorms, shelters, nursing homes, prisons, military barracks and so on. In Seattle, about 25,000 people, or 3.4% of the population, lived in a group quarter setting in 2021, census data shows.
A household can be a family, a single person, or a group of unrelated people (such as roommates or unmarried partners). And naturally, there are differences in income between these various household types.
Everyone knows it’s expensive to raise kids in Seattle, but even so, the median income for a married couple with children under 18 in 2021 was eye-popping — $237,300. That’s more than double the U.S. median for a married couple with kids, which was $112,500.
For women living alone, the median income was $54,500, and for men living alone, it was $59,400. These figures are also significantly higher than the U.S. medians, but well below double.
More concerning are the city’s racial gaps in household income, which have only worsened over recent years.
The median income for Seattle households headed by an Asian person has soared over the past decade, surpassing the median for households headed by a white person. In 2021, the median was $125,400, which represents a 151% increase from 2010. Nationally, Asian households also have the highest median income among the major racial/ethnic groups, at $100,600.
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.
The median income for households headed by a multiracial person have also grown impressively, up 92% from 2010. For households headed by a white person, incomes were up 78%.
But among the city’s households headed by a Hispanic person, the increase has only been 52%, and for households headed by a Black person, just 37%.
In fact, all major racial/ethnic groups in Seattle have higher household incomes than the national median, except for Black people. The median for Black households in Seattle was estimated at $41,300, and the U.S. median was $46,800.
The new census release also includes income data for smaller cities (those with at least 65,000 residents). The city with the highest median household income in Washington — and second-highest among all cities included in the data — was Sammamish, at $201,400. The only place with a higher median was Dublin, California, which is east of San Francisco.
The four highest-income cities in Washington (among those with at least 65,000 residents) in Washington are on the Eastside. After Sammamish come Redmond ($155,400), Bellevue ($144,300) and Kirkland ($130,400). Seattle ranked fifth in the state.
It’s worth taking a moment to define what the Census Bureau calls “household income.” I suspect 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 high salary.