Child poverty moves south from Seattle

Twenty years ago, 1 in 5 Seattle children aged 5-17 years old (>12,000) lived in poverty. Poverty among school-aged Seattle children peaked in 1997 – 13 to 16 years before all school districts in the county experienced recession-linked surges in student poverty.  By the “post-recession” year of 2016, the picture had changed dramatically, according to data prepared by the Census Bureau’s Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates (SAIPE).

The rates and numbers of school-aged children living in poverty have continued to decline in Seattle, and have returned to pre-recession levels in many King County school districts.  But the overall number has increased – from 28,971 in 1997 to 31,259 in 2016 – with most of the increase coming from a cluster of South Region districts that are accommodating the county’s re-distribution of poverty.

On one end of the see-saw, Seattle’s share of the county’s low-income children dropped from 42% in 1997 to 21% in 2016.  On the other end, the South Region school districts of Auburn, Federal Way, Highline, Kent, Renton, and Tukwila, which together contributed only 39% of school-aged poverty in 1997, are now responsible for educating 55% of the county’s students living in poverty.  All 6 districts have double-digit rates of student poverty, from 13% in Kent to 29% in Tukwila.  And none have returned to pre-recession levels of school-aged poverty.

Given the stratospheric rise in Seattle housing costs, it seems likely that child poverty in Seattle schools has declined (down to 10%, from a high of 19%) because poor families couldn’t afford to stay.  Families – and school districts – in Seattle and many East Region cities benefit from the region’s strong economic recovery. In future blogs, we will look school funding, health, and academic progress to see how South Region school districts are coping with an influx of children whose families aren’t doing as well economically.

See recent updates by school district to Communities Count education indicators and Best Starts for Kids indicators.

2016 City Health Profiles reveal little-known facts

The newly updated City Health Profiles are filled with fascinating details about King County communities.  For example, did you know that …

  • … residents of Northeast Seattle live an average of 9.9 years longer than those in South Auburn (86.2 versus 76.3 years, respectively)?
  •  … Seattle’s Queen Anne/Magnolia area ranks #1 for excessive drinking in King County (37% of adults, compared to 10% in the west section of Kent)?
  • … King County islands are magnets for seniors:  On Mercer and Vashon Islands, 1 in 5 residents is 65 or older, compared to only 1 in 14 in Sammamish?
  • … 88% of Mercer Island/Point Cities adults saw a dentist in the past year, compared to only 44% of adults in SeaTac/Tukwila?

In this year’s companion Appendix, you can find neighborhood-specific data from King County’s 7 largest cities (Auburn, Bellevue, Federal Way, Kent, Kirkland, Renton, and Seattle).

Coming soon:  An interactive version of the 2016 City Health Profiles and Appendix will be posted online.  New features for the appendix include maps and automatic rank-ordering of demographic and health information across 48 geographic regions in King County.

Zooming in on neighborhood inequality – by county, city, and ZIP code

Recent reports paint very different pictures of health and wellbeing in King County. According to the 2016 County Health Rankings, King County is the 2nd healthiest county in Washington (San Juan County is 1st).  Looking for details behind the promising headline, however, King County’s 2016 City Health Profiles reveal deep disparities.  For example, 5% of Sammamish residents report that their health is “fair” or “poor,” compared to 23% in Burien – almost a 5-fold difference.  Similarly, average life expectancy ranges from 76.3 years in South Auburn to 86.2 years in Northeast Seattle.  Across 26 King County cities, wide disparities for everything from obesity and teen births to diabetes- and Alzheimer’s-related deaths are the norm, not the exception.

But these disparities do not occur in isolation. They develop in communities, often over generations, in a context of economic inequality. A new interactive tool, the Distressed Communities Index , enables users to zoom all the way down to ZIP codes in assessing key components of economic distress.  As shown in recent Communities Count updates on food, housing, and income, recovery from the Great Recession has been uneven at best.  Offering a closer look at economic inequality, the Distressed Communities Index is based on 7 complementary measures:

  • Adults (25 and older) without a high school degree
  • Housing vacancy rate
  • Adults (16 and older) not working
  • Poverty rate
  • Ratio of an area’s median income to its state’s median income
  • Percent change in jobs from 2010 to 2013
  • Percent change in number of businesses from 2010 to 2013

In the Auburn area, one of King County’s most distressed ZIP codes, 98002, is flanked by more prosperous neighbors – 98092 to the east and 98001 to the west.  The distress score of 80.8 indicates that ZIP code 98002 is more economically distressed than 80.8 percent of 26,000+ ZIP codes nationwide.  The much lower distress scores of nearby ZIP codes (see table) reveal that these next-door neighbors, although spatially close, are economically far apart.

Almost 1 in 5 adults in the central Auburn ZIP code (98002) do not have a high school diploma, more than double the rates of its immediate neighbors.  Similarly, the poverty rate in ZIP code 98002 (26%) is more than double the rates in adjacent ZIP codes.  Elsewhere in King County, distress scores are as low as 0.7 (ZIP code 98065) in Snoqualmie and as high as 93.3 (ZIP code 98134) in the SoDo/Harbor-Island/Duwamish industrial area south of downtown Seattle.

Distressed Communities Index and selected measures for King County ZIP codes

ZIP Code

98001 Auburn  west

98002  Auburn central

98092 Auburn  east

98065 Snoqualmie

98134 Industrial Seattle

Distress Index 






No High School diploma












Median Income Ratio (ZIP code/state)







Offering a new way to look at “spatial inequality,” this tool could prove useful to regional projects focusing their efforts on discrete geographical areas.