Decade in demographics: Top 5 changes in the Seattle area

Seattle’s population has ballooned by 136,000 since 2010, hitting 745,000 last year.

  • Gene Balk / FYI Guy The Seattle Times
  • Monday, December 30, 2019 9:19am
  • Northwest

By Gene Balk / The Seattle Times

SEATTLE — If you don’t like change, Seattle is probably the worst place to live in the country.

Perhaps more than any other major U.S. city, Seattle has been this decade’s demographic dynamo. While it’s been exciting to watch it unfold, it’s also been disorienting — and that’s particularly true for longtime residents.

Seattle has become more cosmopolitan and diverse, denser and more vibrant. Neighborhoods have been reborn, and no one could argue that the past decade has been a boom period.

The flip side is that Seattle has become more expensive and exclusive. It has gentrified at an alarming pace, and many poorer people have been pushed out of the city or into homelessness. And our transportation infrastructure hasn’t always kept pace with the growth.

With just days to go until 2020, this seems like a good time to look back at the biggest demographic stories of the decade. Here is my (highly subjective) Top 5:

1. Newcomers and record-breaking population growth

No. 1 is a no-brainer. It all started in 2013, when Seattle suddenly clocked in as the nation’s fastest-growing big city for the year, according to census data. And the breakneck speed of growth hasn’t let up. As of 2018 (the most recent data), Seattle is the fastest-growing major city of the decade, narrowly beating out Austin, Texas, for that distinction.

After 100 years of the suburbs growing at a faster rate than the city, Seattle reversed that trend this decade. Since our growth spurt began, roughly 50,000 people move to the city from outside of Washington every year. (Of course, people also leave Seattle, so the population doesn’t grow by 50,000 annually).

Seattle’s population has ballooned by 136,000 since 2010, hitting 745,000 last year. That pencils out to a growth rate of more than 22%, which is a staggering increase for a period of less than 10 years.

For some context, in the previous 30 years (from 1980 to 2010), Seattle’s population only grew by about 116,000.

2. Soaring incomes and cost of living

Tech wealth transformed Seattle this decade, making this one of the most expensive cities in the country. The median household income hit $93,500 last year, an increase of $33,000 since 2010. Only two other large cities surpassed us, also with tech-based economies: San Francisco and San Jose, California.

Housing prices went through the roof, but so did all sorts of other expenditures. According to the Cost of Living Index, living costs in Seattle rose from 35th highest among large U.S. cities in 2012 to sixth highest in 2018. According to the Index, housing costs here are more than double the national average. But we also rank near the top in every category of consumer expenditures.

3. Diversity on the Eastside

For all the demographic upheaval in Seattle this decade, the racial composition of the city’s population didn’t change all that much. Seattle has become modestly more racially diverse, with people of color comprising 37% of population in 2018, up from 34% in 2010. And the most diverse part of Seattle — the fast-gentrifying South End — actually became whiter.

On the Eastside, it’s a different story. Once characterized as homogeneous, mostly white suburbs, much of the Eastside has experienced rapid diversification. In Bellevue, King County’s second-largest city, people of color made up 34% of the population at the start of the decade, just as in Seattle. By 2018, people of color were in the majority, at 51%.

Redmond is diversifying just as rapidly. In fact, in 2018 — for the first time — people of color comprised the majority of the population in Microsoft’s hometown, at 52% (up from about 37% in 2010).

In both Bellevue and Redmond, the Asian populations grew the fastest, but there were also significant increases in the Hispanic and multiracial populations.

4. Software developer becomes region’s top occupation

If you’re looking for a single statistic that sums up the Seattle area transformation this decade, here’s a contender: Software developer overtook retail salesperson to become our metro’s No. 1 job. The most recent numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show about 58,000 retail sales workers compared with nearly 66,000 software developers.

Of course, that shift also helps explain why incomes have gone up so rapidly here, with software developers here earning a median of about $125,000.

5. City of millennials

With Gen Y now coming of age, the media focus seems to have shifted away from their predecessors, the millennials — and it’s hard to believe, but the oldest ones are now pushing 40.

Even so, the 2010s were all about millennials, and that was more true in Seattle than just about anywhere. The city became one of the nation’s top magnets for young adults this decade. As of 2018, there were more than 240,000 people age 25-to-39 living in Seattle — that’s one in three city residents. The number of people in this age bracket increased by almost 70,000 since the start of the decade.

This influx of young adults made the city’s median age drop by a full year between 2010 and 2018 (it’s now 35.2 years). And keep in mind, this happened at a time when most of America is getting older, as the massive baby-boomer generation ages into its 60s and 70s. We’ve got plenty of aging boomers here in Seattle, too, but they were more than offset by all those millennial arrivals.

Talk to us

More in Northwest

The Supreme Court in Washington D.C. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Supreme Court limits EPA in curbing power plant emissions

This impacts how the nation’s main anti-air pollution law can be used to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

NO CAPTION. Logo to accompany news of Washington state.
Washington state license plates prices increase July 1

The price of a new plate will rise from $10 to $50, and replacing a lost plate will increase from $10 to $30.

Hundreds gather to listen to a lineup of guest speakers during Snohomish County’s “Bans Off Our Bodies” rally Saturday, May 14, 2022, outside the county courthouse in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade; states can ban abortion

The decision is expected to lead to abortion bans in roughly half the states.

FILE - In this photo provided by the Washington State Department of Natural Resources, a crane and boats are anchored next to a collapsed "net pen" used by Cooke Aquaculture Pacific to farm Atlantic Salmon near Cypress Island in Washington state on Aug. 28, 2017, after a failure of the nets allowed tens of thousands of the nonnative fish to escape. A Washington state jury on Wednesday, June 22, 2022, awarded the Lummi Indian tribe $595,000 over the 2017 collapse of the net pen where Atlantic salmon were being raised, an event that elicited fears of damage to wild salmon runs and prompted the Legislature to ban the farming of the nonnative fish. (David Bergvall/Washington State Department of Natural Resources via AP, File)
Jury awards $595,000 to Lummi tribe for salmon pen collapse

The tribe sued, saying the pen owner had not reimbursed the tribal government for its clean up effort.

FILE - Alaska Airlines planes are parked at gates with Mount Rainier in the background at sunrise, on March 1, 2021, at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport in Seattle. A union has reached a deal Wednesday, June 22, 2022, with Seattle-based Alaska Airlines for a two-year contract extension that provides substantial raises for 5,300 gate agents, stores personnel and office staff, as well as for ramp workers who load cargo. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)
Alaska Airlines reaches contract deal with some workers

Raises for gate agents, stores personnel, office staff, as well as ramp workers who load cargo.

NO CAPTION. Logo to accompany news of Seattle.
Seattle facing $117 million revenue shortfall in 2023

The city’s budget chief says there’s no easy way to bridge the gap.

A view from the lower undeveloped part of the Flowery Trail neighborhood looking at spots where slash piles have been burned - outside Chewelah, Wash. (Erick Doxey / InvestigateWest)
Growing sprawl in state’s woods comes with high wildfire risk

Policymakers and homeowners are scrambling to manage the so-called “wildland-urban interface” to mitigate the threat.

The kids thought it was milk. It was actually floor sealant

In Juneau, containers of the chemical were stacked on the same pallet as boxes containing pouches of milk.

NO CAPTION. Logo to accompany news of Seattle.
Initiative to change Seattle elections heads toward ballot

The initiative would alter the way Seattle elects mayors, city attorneys and City Council members.

Lynnwood
Lynnwood climber supports first all-Black Mount Everest summit bid

Fred Campbell was part of the historic expedition, but got sick and had to turn back before the submit.

The A.J. Eisenberg Airport in Oak Harbor. (Karina Andrew / Whidbey News-Times)
Local pilot plans to buy Whidbey Island airport

Robert DeLaurentis, known as the “Zen Pilot,” submitted a letter of intent to purchase the A.J. Eisenberg Airport.