UW News

September 15, 2016

Poverty decreases, income inequality holds in Washington state

The share of Washingtonians living in poverty dropped from 13.2 percent to 12.2 percent between 2014 and 2015, according to new data released Thursday.

Washington was one of 23 states with statistically significant declines in their poverty rates during that period. The remaining 27 states and the District of Columbia saw no change in their poverty rates.

“It is good news that the poverty rate has dropped for a second year in a row in Washington state. However, the share of Washingtonians living in deep poverty remained steady at nearly 6 percent (5.8 percent). That is nearly 406,000 Washingtonians with incomes less than 50 percent of the relevant poverty thresholds,” said Jennifer Romich, director of the West Coast Poverty Center at the University of Washington and an associate professor of social work.

The poverty rate in the Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue metropolitan area dropped from 11.3 to 10.2 percent between 2014 and 2015. But the percentage of people living in deep poverty in the area remained statistically unchanged at 5.2 percent.

Poverty rates vary widely across the state of Washington. For example, Snohomish County had a poverty rate of 9.2 percent, while 16.1 percent of Grant County residents and 18.8 percent of Yakima County residents were estimated to be poor. As a whole, the Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue metropolitan area had a lower poverty rate (10.2 percent) than the state, but some cities within the metropolitan area, such as Everett (15.0 percent) and Tacoma (16.2 percent), face higher poverty rates.

Washington was one of 39 states and the District of Columbia that saw increases in median income between 2014 and 2015. The estimated median annual household income in Washington for 2015 was $64,129, up 4.4 percent from $61,426 in 2014. Median income in the Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue area increased from $71,329 in 2014 to $75,331 in 2015, a change of 5.6 percent.

Although income inequality increased for the nation as a whole, there was no change in a measure of income inequality in Washington, or in 40 other states and the District of Columbia. Inequality in Washington state as measured by the Gini Index was .456 in 2015. The Gini Index is a summary measure of income inequality ranging from 0 when income is distributed equally across all households to 1 when one household holds all the income.

For more information, contact Romich at 206-372-7034 or romich@uw.edu.