Seattle has had a number of periods of tremendous growth and change. The Klondike Gold Rush put Seattle on the map as the “Gateway to Alaska.” Then, during the postwar Boeing Boom, Seattle became known as “Jet City.”
While no one has yet coined a new nickname to describe the Seattle of the 2010s, the last decade was — without question — as momentous in terms of change as any of preceding ones.
But even within the Seattle area, some places experienced a lot more change than others. Back in March, I highlighted some of the most-changed neighborhoods of the decade around King County based on five demographic factors. In this column, I look at five new ones, comparing the numbers from the 2019 release with those from the 2010 release.
Here are the neighborhoods that stand out.
The Seattle area was already affluent compared to much of the United States in 2010, but the past decade we hit a whole new level. But where did salaries go up the most?
For this, I looked at the median earnings for full-time workers residing in each King County census tract. In Census Bureau terminology, “earnings” refers to wages and salaries (“income,” on the other hand, includes money that comes into a household from nearly any source).
The eastern half of the South Lake Union/Denny Triangle area was the only area in the county where the median earnings more than doubled over the course of the last decade.
In 2010, this area was in the bottom 15% of King County census tracts. The median earnings for a full-time worker who lived here was about $39,400. In a complete reversal, by 2019 this tract was in the top 15% of tracts, with median earnings for a full-time worker at $107,900.
The median represents the midpoint. In other words, half the workers make more, and half make less.
The South Lake Union/Denny Triangle area was, of course, completely transformed over the course of the decade by massive redevelopment and the consolidation of Amazon’s headquarters in the neighborhood. The neighborhood, which once had more parking lots than pedestrians, now boasts glittering glass towers and luxury apartment buildings, and is dotted with restaurants, cafes and CrossFit gyms.
Naturally, a lot of the folks who live here work in tech occupations — close to 30% of the employed residents — which explains the steep rise in earnings. In 2019, the median salary for a tech worker in Seattle (employed full time) was $132,000, census data shows.
Movers from out of state
The rapid growth of Amazon didn’t just transform South Lake Union in the 2010s. Every close-in neighborhood felt the impact — a lot of new people, apartment construction, higher rents and other signs of gentrification.
The Westlake neighborhood, just a stone’s throw from South Lake Union, is a perfect example. It’s almost unrecognizable today from how it looked in 2010. Both Westlake and Dexter avenues are lined with large new apartment buildings that replaced empty lots.
The neighborhood experienced a nearly 50% population growth over the course of the decade. And if you live here, there’s a pretty good chance you lived somewhere far away just one year ago.
The Westlake census tract, which includes part of the eastern side of Queen Anne, had King County’s biggest increase in new arrivals from out of state. In 2010, less than 5% of the residents had lived outside of Washington one year earlier. By 2019, that number had shot up to 22% — that’s more than 2,000 people (age 1 and older) out of the roughly 9,200 who live here.
Census data shows that of the 2,000 new arrivals from outside Washington, about 55% moved here from another U.S. state and 45% came from abroad.
The Westlake census tract is not unusual in having a high percentage of new arrivals from abroad. Immigrants were a major driver of population growth in King County in the 2010s. In central Seattle and parts of the Eastside, many are tech workers originally from India or China. But immigrants come to King County from all corners of the globe, and fill jobs in every sector.
More than half a million King County residents — roughly a quarter of the total population — are foreign born, a census term describing anyone who is not a U.S. citizen at birth.
In two-thirds of King County census tracts, the percentage of residents who are foreign born increased between 2010 and 2019. But which area saw the biggest jump?
South King County is home to many immigrant communities, and the Riverton/Boulevard Park area — just south of Seattle’s South Park neighborhood — experienced the county’s biggest increase in foreign-born residents. In 2010, people born abroad made up just 15% of the total population in this area. By 2019, that number had shot up to 39%.
The foreign-born population here — about 2,300 people — more than doubled over the course of the decade. The largest segment of the foreign-born population is made up of people originally from Latin America (48% of the total), followed by those born in Asia (20%) and Africa (14%).
The 2010s saw tech workers become as ubiquitous as coffee shops in Seattle — and software developer is now, in fact, the No. 1 occupation in King County. Nearly 100,000 county residents were employed full time in a computer-related job in 2019.
In some neighborhoods, primarily on the Eastside and in central Seattle, the percentage of residents who work in tech skyrocketed over the course of the decade.
The biggest increase was in a census tract in the Crossroads section of Bellevue, on the western side of the neighborhood. This area is just a little south of the Microsoft campus in Redmond.
Census data shows that in 2010, just about 15% of the residents here (among those employed full time) worked in a tech occupation. By 2019, that more than doubled to 38%.
This census tract is also notable for having the highest percentage of foreign-born residents in King County, at 59%.
Just a bit north of Crossroads, in Redmond’s Overlake neighborhood, there exists the only census tract in King County were the majority of working residents (52%) were in tech jobs in 2019.
With the soaring cost of living in King County in the 2010s, it isn’t easy for many families with children. And certainly, some young couples had to leave the county in order to start a family.
Even so, there are some areas of King County where the percentage of households with children under 18 increased significantly in the last decade. I would have guessed that the biggest jump would have been in an area where housing costs are on the low end compared with the rest of the county.
But in fact, the largest increase in families with kids happened in a relatively expensive neighborhood.
In 2010, only about 29% of the households in the Southeast Redmond/Bear Creek areas of Redmond had a child under age 18. By the end of the decade, that number jumped to nearly half — 46%. There were almost 400 more kids in the area in 2019 than there were in 2010.
And here’s a clue as to why this happened. This area saw a roughly 20% increase in owner-occupied housing units, while the number of rental units actually declined. In King County, homeowners are much more likely to have children than renters.
You have to go pretty far east to find the county’s most kid-friendly area. In Ames Lake, between Sammamish and Carnation, 69% of households had a child under 18 in 2019.
But if you’re looking to live somewhere where you’re almost guaranteed to never see children, the southern half of Belltown in downtown Seattle is your best bet. Less than 2% of households had a kid.
A couple of notes on the data:
I based the percentage of tech workers on the Census Bureau’s “computer and mathematical occupations” category. This does include some nontech jobs (actuaries, for example). But in King County, 96% of workers in this category are in computer-related occupations.
Because census tracts are small areas, in order to get a larger sample, the Census Bureau averages five years’ worth of data to produce its annual estimates. So the 2019 data for census tracts represents the average of the years 2015 to 2019, and the 2010 data represents the average of the years 2006 to 2010.