Everybody knows that Seattle has become a very affluent city, but even so, this is remarkable news.
The city’s median household income jumped nearly $7,000 in 2018, hitting a record $93,500, according to data released Thursday by the U.S. Census Bureau.
In case you hadn’t noticed, we’re not like the rest of America. Nationally, incomes inched up by less than 1% last year, landing at $62,000.
The median income represents the midway point — in other words, half the households earn more, and half earn less. So that means that in Seattle, nearly half (48%) of our 338,000 households pull in a six-figure income.
Only two major cities have a higher median income than Seattle, and you could probably guess which ones they are: San Francisco ($112,000) and San Jose ($113,000).
Since the start of the decade, Seattle incomes have risen by more than 50%, or about $33,000 (not adjusting for inflation). That increase in dollar amount ranks third highest among the 50 largest U.S. cities. All of the top five are either in the Bay Area (San Francisco, San Jose and Oakland) or in the Northwest (Seattle and Portland).
You can count these cities among the winners in the new tech-centered economy. Others are not so lucky. While the median income increased in every major city, many saw much more modest change. In Memphis, incomes increased by only $150 since 2010 — if adjusted for inflation, that would mean incomes have actually declined.
Why are incomes soaring in Seattle? If it sounds like all of us got big fat raises, that’s probably not what happened, unfortunately. A more likely scenario is that a lot of high-paying new jobs were created, pushing up the median. In a column last year, I reported that software developer had become the most common occupation in Seattle, overtaking retail sales. Software developers in Seattle earn, on average, more than $100,000 a year.
And of course, as more of the city gentrifies, housing costs have gone way up, and some folks on the lower end of the income scale have been priced out. Only 19% of Seattle households have an income of less than $35,000, according to the new data.
Nationally, the percentage of households earning less than $35,000 (28%) is nearly the same as the percentage earning $100,000 or more (29%).
While Seattle’s overall median income figure is very high, there are striking disparities among the income figures for the city’s racial and ethnic communities. The median income for households headed by a white person is about $105,000, which is the highest. At the opposite end of the spectrum, the median for a household headed by a black person is just $42,500. Nearly half (45%) of black households in Seattle have an income of less than $35,000, the data shows.
So what does it take to be considered rich in Seattle these days? It’s subjective, of course, but census data shows that for the top 5% of Seattle households, the average income is now $609,000.