UW News

September 26, 2019

Income gains for many, but no change in poverty rates for Seattle and King County

UW News


Federal poverty data show higher median incomes in Washington, but poverty rates have changed little since 2018.Andrew Khoroshavin


The share of Washingtonians living below the federal poverty threshold declined from 11.0 to 10.3 percent between 2017 and 2018, according to new Census data released Thursday.  Washington was one of 14 states in which poverty rates fell between 2017 and 2018.

Washington’s poverty rate is lower than the poverty rate in most states.  Eight states – Hawaii, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Maryland, Minnesota, Colorado, Utah and Massachusetts – have lower rates. Across the nation, only Connecticut saw an increase in poverty rates.

Poverty rates for Seattle and King County (11.0% and 9.3% respectively) remain statistically unchanged since 2017.

“The persistence of poverty amid Seattle’s growing affluence is striking,” said Jennifer Romich, director of the West Coast Poverty Center at the University of Washington and an associate professor of social work. “While many people benefit from our strong local economy, we should keep in mind that 1 in 9 Seattle residents lives below the poverty line.”

Poverty varies by household size.  A single person under age 65 is considered poor if their total income falls below $13,064. A family with two adults and two children is poor with income below $25,465. Poverty also varies around the region, with Renton and Redmond having smaller percentages of residents under the poverty line (7.5% and 5.5%, respectively), and Kent (15.5%) and Federal Way (15.8%) having higher poverty rates.

Following the recent trend, households in Washington saw statistically significant increases in income between 2017 and 2018.  State median household income rose 4.4% to $74,073 in 2018.  At $93,481, median income was even higher in Seattle, a year-on-year gain of 7.7%.  The number of high-income households – those with income above $200,000 per year – rose sharply in Seattle, with 20.9% more households in that category than in 2017.  King County posted similar gains, with median income rising 5.9% to $95,009 in 2018 and a 13.8% increase in the number of households with earnings above $200,000.

Nationwide, income inequality increased between 2017 and 2018.  In Washington state and in the Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue metropolitan area, income inequality has increased since 2010 but did not change significantly between 2017 and 2018.


For more information, contact Romich at romich@uw.edu.