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.

Light rail transforms Tukwila commute

Five years after light rail came to King County, use of public transit by Tukwila commuters more than doubled (from 7% to 16%); at the same time, the share of Tukwila residents who drove to work alone dropped from 73% to 65%.  Commute modes did not change in South King County cities that do not have light rail service.  In Kent and Auburn, for example, 3 out of 4 commuters were still driving to work, and only 6% used public transit.

The recent extension of Link Light Rail to Capitol Hill and the University of Washington further increased Tukwila commuters’ use of light rail.  When the new stations opened in March, MYNorthwest.com reported that Tukwila’s regular and overflow parking lots filled as early as 6:30 am, highlighting needs for nearby affordable housing plus better pedestrian, bike, and local-transit access.

What are the prospects for light rail in other South King County communities?  A new station at Angle Lake, 1.6 miles south of SeaTac Airport, will open this fall, and an extension to Kent/Des Moines (near Highline College) has already been funded.  Funding to complete extensions to the Star Lake park-and-ride (at South 272nd Street), and the Federal Way Transit Center are proposed as part of Sound Transit’s latest (ST3) plan.

Communities Count’s new update of commuting by mode of transportation includes interactive data visualizations on cities throughout King County.  King County/Metro’s online Commute Calculator enables users to compare the costs of driving alone versus using public transit.  

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.

National graduation rate reaches all-time high

For the first time ever, more than 8 in 10 high school students in the United States graduated on time in 2012, according to the widely cited 2014 Building a GradNation report. These improvements occurred even as graduation standards were raised. What about students in King County? For that same year, Communities Count reported on-time graduation rates in King County ranging from 59.8% (Tukwila) to 92.9% (Mercer Island), with 12 districts performing at or above the national average. Among King County students with limited English proficiency, only 53% graduated on time (compared to 79% of all students). This 26-point gap was exceeded by only 11 states. King County also had a larger-than-average disparity in graduation rates of Black and white students, with only 65% of Black students graduating on time, compared to 85% of white students. Only 10 states showed larger Black/white differences.

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.