Recent News

Changing Poverty and Employment Outcomes in Seattle

January 17, 2017

Seattle has experienced exceptional prosperity over the past few years. This prosperity has benefitted the city in many ways. However, it has also resulted in growing inequality, gentrification, and homelessness. Between 2012 and 2015, Seattle reported a 9% increase in the number of individuals living below poverty and a 14% increase in the number living in deep poverty. Seattle is an outlier in these figures when compared to Denver, San Francisco, and the United States as a whole.

Seattle Jobs Initiative’s new research, Big Picture: Changing Poverty and Employment Outcomes in Seattle, compares three groups of zip codes in Seattle – zip codes reporting an increase in both poverty and deep poverty, zip codes reporting an increase exclusively in poverty or deep poverty, and zip codes reporting a decrease in poverty and deep poverty. The results shed light on differences in educational attainment, field of degree, and career selection.

Our research highlights that the zip codes showing an increase in both poverty and deep poverty reported the following between 2012 and 2015:

  • An increase in the rate of youth living below poverty
  • An increase in poverty among families with children (especially those headed by a single parent)
  • An increase in poverty among all races though disproportionately among people of color
  • A higher rate of individuals with a high school diploma or lesser education
  • A greater increase in the rate of individuals employed in the service occupations
  • Little change in the rate of individuals employed in the retail trade industry whereas the remaining zip codes reported an increase
  • A higher rate of individuals in the service sector who are employed in building and grounds cleaning and maintenance occupations and a lower rate of individuals in the service sector who are employed in food preparation and serving occupations
  • A ratio of 2 white individuals with a bachelor’s degree or higher to 1 person of color with a bachelor’s degree or higher.  The remaining zip codes reported a ratio around 1.4 white individuals with a bachelor’s degree or higher to 1 person of color with a bachelor’s degree or higher
  • An increase in the rate of individuals who did not work in the past 12 months

Some other key findings are:

  • African American individuals reported an increase in the rate of poverty across all zip code groups – even those zip codes which, overall, reported a decrease in poverty and deep poverty
  • Native individuals show similar rates of educational attainment at each step in the educational pipeline across the three zip code groups. On the other hand, foreign-born individuals in the zip codes reporting an increase in poverty and deep poverty show higher rates of individuals exiting the education pipeline with less than a high school diploma or upon high school graduation

Further understanding of the individuals living among zip codes reporting an increase in poverty and deep poverty is necessary to understand these trends. Some of the high-level questions left to answer include:

  • How do individuals and families among the zip codes that are reporting an increase in poverty and deep poverty describe their Seattle experience?
  • What types of jobs have they worked previously? What is their current occupation?
  • What has contributed to their participation (or non-participation) in the local labor force?
  • What influences the decisions that they make about their education and career path?
  • In what ways are their basic needs being met? Are all of their basic needs being met?
  • Are their education and training needs being met?
  • What are their thoughts about job training programs?
  • How do they define a “good job” and a “living wage”?
  • What does the term “career” mean to them? What does the term “job” mean to them?
  • How is Seattle’s rising cost of living affect these individuals and their families?

Poverty, combined with limited opportunity, leads to a continuous struggle. We hope that the findings and recommendations from this research will lead to actions that will ensure high-quality opportunities for all Seattleites to advance into living-wage careers.

The full report is available here.



About the Author: