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.

Student homelessness as high as 1 in 10 in some county districts

Columbia Legal Services recently reported that 1 in 34 students in Washington State are homeless. The overall picture in King County is somewhat better (1 in 44 students), but the county average masks large differences among districts.  Three districts are doing much worse than the county average: Tukwila (1 in 10 students), Highline (1 in 20), and Seattle (1 in 21).   In three other districts (Mercer Island, Issaquah, and Lake Washington) fewer than 1 in 100 students are homeless. 

Patterns of homelessness differ among the 3 districts with the highest rates.  While 71% of Seattle’s homeless students live in shelters, about ¾ of homeless students in Tukwila and Highline are “doubled up” (living with a series of friends or extended family). In addition, more than half of homeless students in Tukwila and Highline are in grade 5 or lower, compared to only 38% in Seattle, where homeless students are more likely to be in high school.

Why does this matter for students?  Independent of poverty, the academic performance of homeless and other highly mobile students is lower – and is likely to stay lower – than that of students with more residential stability.  Homeless students are also more likely than stably housed students to experience family adversity and problems with physical and emotional health.  For information on sources, please go to “Other Sources” in HOUSING: Notes & Sources.