A short class about 'class'

Excuse the term, but here's how the region breaks down in terms of class structure
Excuse the term, but here's how the region breaks down in terms of class structure

Some readers may feel I should use the safer term, "socio-economic status," rather than 'ꀜclass.'ꀝ But class is used widely, as in 'ꀜthe middle class is getting squeezed,'ꀝ or the 'ꀜtax burden on the lower classes,'ꀝ and it is a meaningful descriptor of areas of obviously differing well-being.

There is no implication of 'ꀜbetter than.'ꀝ Class simply reflects the mix of inheritance, education, biology, experience, discrimination, and life events that lead to variability in economic well-being. It is unfortunately true that race, ethnicity and class remain highly correlated especially within the core cities of Seattle and Tacoma, reflecting the continuing history of unequal education and job preparation and prospects.

At any rate, the dominant 'ꀜupper class'ꀝ area in our region is the Eastside, from Cottage Lake through Redmond, Kirkland, Bellevue, Sammamish, Mercer Island, and Issaquah — perforated with islands of middle-classness. A second set of upper class areas are waterfront and view neighborhoods, as on the Gig Harbor peninsula, Bainbridge Island, and on Puget Sound from Magnolia north to Mukilteo. The third such zone is simply the University of Washington's immediate hinterland (Laurelhurst, Washington Park, north Capitol Hill, etc.). That area, we believe, is the real reason for the city of Seattle'ꀙs unusually high status, income, and popularity, not downtown Seattle business.

Conversely, lower class areas include traditional zones of mixed housing, industry, and transport, as in south Seattle, Everett, Bremerton, Auburn, and especially Tacoma. The largest area of lower class neighborhoods extends from south Seattle through south King county to Tacoma. It is marked by historical development, displacement from Seattle, and high minority populations. The second large zone of lower class settlement is the rural fringe, especially in Pierce and Snohomish counties. This may surprise those who think all rural areas are the home of rich estates.

The middle class areas dominate the outer suburban areas as well as some older inner neighborhoods of Seattle and Tacoma.

I derive this information from a map of 'ꀜfactor scores,'ꀝ a statistically constructed variable or index, divided into six levels of 'ꀜclass'ꀝ — two upper, two middle, and two lower. It is timely to do this, since it was 50 years ago when Calvin Schmid, demographer in Sociology at the UW and my early mentor, performed a pioneering factor analysis of crime in Seattle, before modern computers. The contemporary derived scores reflect high weighting of the variables, especially the percentage of adults with a BA or more, percentage in professional versus laboring occupations, median house value, and median household income.


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About the Authors & Contributors

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Dick Morrill

Dick Morrill is emeritus professor of geography at the University of Washington and an expert in urban demography.