Here in Seattle, we take a lot of pride in our status as the coffee capital of the nation. But starting tomorrow, you might want to consider switching to decaf.
Because Seattle is also the most jittery major metro in the U.S., according to survey data from the U.S. Census Bureau.
In a survey conducted Sept. 29 to Oct. 11, 54.5% of the adult population of King, Pierce and Snohomish counties — that’s roughly 1.8 million people — said they felt “nervous, anxious or on edge” for at least several days during the past two weeks. That’s the highest percentage among the 15 largest U.S. metro areas.
This data comes from the ongoing Household Pulse Survey, an experimental product of the U.S. Census Bureau. Unlike other census products, which have a long lag time, the Household Pulse Survey provides near real-time data.
The Household Pulse Survey includes data for all 50 states plus the 15 largest metro areas — Seattle just makes the cut at No. 15.
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 a post-pandemic recovery. And it goes without saying that the pandemic has been a particularly stressful time for many of us. That's why there is a question about anxiety in the survey.
I was a little skeptical about the survey results at first. For one thing, as with all survey data, there is a certain amount of error built into it. On top of that, any survey of people's mental health is bound to have some degree of variance. Feelings of anxiety often change from day to day or week to week.
Fortunately, the Household Pulse Survey is a biweekly product, so I was able to see if Seattle ranked consistently high for anxiety over time. I checked each of the surveys going back to the start of the current phase of questions, which began on July 21 — that's a total of six surveys.
In each of the six, Seattle ranked either No. 1 or No. 2 among the 15 metros for the percentage of adults experiencing symptoms of anxiety for at least several days. And Seattle was the only metro area where more than 50% of the respondents were experiencing anxiety in all six of the surveys.
In other words, the latest result doesn't appear to be a fluke. We really are more stressed out.
It would be great if there was pre-pandemic data that we could use as a baseline level of anxiety with which to compare these findings. But the Census Bureau only began this project in response to the pandemic, so we can't know if Seattle has always been more stressed out than other large metros, or if this is something new.
One thing that can cause anxiety is economic hardship, and many of us have been hit hard by the pandemic. Even so, there are metro areas with higher rates of poverty and unemployment than Seattle — Detroit and Miami, for example — which consistently have lower levels of anxiety than we do.
We also have more protections against evictions than many other places, so that's one less thing for renters to worry about.
Perhaps it's the spread of coronavirus itself that's causing people in Seattle anxiety. This is purely anecdotal, but I see a tremendous number of Seattleites masked up even when they're walking outside, and at extremely low risk of contracting the virus. You don't see this same degree of precaution in many other parts of the country, or even in Washington state.
The survey data doesn't give us any clues as to why people are anxious. But it does tell us some more about who is feeling it more profoundly.
There is a strong generational component to anxiety. Seattle Gen Z and millennials are significantly more stressed-out than boomers. Gen X anxiety falls somewhere in between.
A higher percentage of white people are stressed out in Seattle than people of color.
There are less significant differences in degrees of anxiety by marital status or level of education.
Also interesting: Seattle doesn't stand out for the percentage of adults who say they struggle with symptoms of anxiety nearly every day. In the most recent survey, that accounted for 13%, which is in line with many other metro areas.
It's the percentage of folks who say they have anxiety several days or about half of the days in the two week period — about 41% of our adult population — where Seattle stands out from the pack.
The most recent Household Pulse Survey had about 57,000 respondents nationally, including 1,415 in the Seattle metro area.