Seattle is shedding diversity; the state's minority populations grow

While larger trends have made the city become whiter, other parts of the central Puget Sound region have become genuinely diverse. Seattle now ranks 40th statewide in diversity.

Crosscut archive image.

Minority populations in the central Puget Sound area. Click on the map for a larger view. Color code in this order: a. 2 to 20% minority; b. 20 to 28%; c. 28 to 35%; d. 35 to 50%; e. 50 to 75%; 75 to 94%.

While larger trends have made the city become whiter, other parts of the central Puget Sound region have become genuinely diverse. Seattle now ranks 40th statewide in diversity.

As I have noted several times in recent years, the city of Seattle is an exceptional place. The 2010 census figures on race, ethnicity, and age confirm this reputation. The main story from the census findings is the continued gentrification of Seattle, with displacement of minorities and the less affluent out of the center of the city, especially to south King County and Pierce County. The city core is becoming whiter, while the edges and suburbs, north and east as well as south, are becoming far more diverse.

A second part of the story is the overall increase in the minority population, both statewide and in central Puget Sound. I present two maps, first the distribution of all minorities (the remainder, of course, is the white non-Latino population). The second map, change in the share of all minorities (or of whites, looking at it from that point of view) is a remarkable summary of the new face of the metropolis.

The black share of the population, which did grow substantially in the decade, shows the main concentration to be from the very south end of Seattle, south to Tukwila, a smaller area in south Tacoma, with belts over 10 percent black covering much of central and south Seattle, south King County and much of Tacoma and Lakewood. Unlike the 1960s through 1980s, there is no tract over half black. Shares in most of the region remain well below 5 percent, with rural small town areas below 1 percent.

The Asian population is much larger than the black total, and higher shares are far more widespread. Unlike the concentration that existed on south Seattle’s Beacon Hill until around 1980, the 2010 map shows equally high shares in many parts of the Eastside, especially Bellevue, Redmond, and Sammamish, and smaller areas in south King county and south Everett. The newer areas are also areas of high foreign-born populations and immigration of professionals from Asia.

The Latino shares are still lower here when compared to parts of Eastern Washington. The highest shares are in south King County and Pierce County, rather similar to the pattern for the black population, but with a more westerly orientation in south Seattle and more of a presence in Renton.

The map of all minorities, colored to emphasize the minority concentrations, attests to the diversification of the region, with up to half the urban footprint showing shares over 35 percent, and with much of south King County and south Tacoma, and parts of Bellevue-Redmond over 50 percent, utterly unlike the story 20 years earlier. As remarkable, though, is the low share in professional, affluent, highly educated parts of Seattle. More expected are the very low shares over almost all far-suburban, exurban, and rural areas.

Change in black-population shares reveals the continuing exodus/displacement from Seattle, with the significant growth in south King County, including Tukwila, Sea-Tac, and Kent, and in Pierce County. Asians too experienced tremendous growth in the suburbs, especially in eastern King County and suburban Snohomish County. Particularly favored areas were Covington, Redmond, Sammamish, Bellevue, and Bothell, north into Snohomish.

Change in the Latino population, like that of the black population, is greatest in south King county, into south Tacoma, but also in the Highway 99 corridor in Snohomish County. Growth in both the black and Latino populations is clearly in less-affluent housing markets than growth of the Asian population.

The map of minority population change, summarizes the racial and ethnic transformation of the metropolis, and highlights the exceptionalism of the city of Seattle. Most observers would probably be drawn to the dramatic and obvious diversification of suburbia, in all directions, north, east and south of Seattle.

But as a 55-year resident of Seattle, the most dramatic feature is that green and blue part of central and south Seattle that is the very definition of the historic Central Area and its extension into Rainier Valley. Much of Seattle became whiter or only slightly more diverse, while most of the region became more ethnically and racially complex, even many exurban and rural areas. The reasons for this redistribution are complex and beyond the scope of this review of the census, but we know that the popularity of living in Seattle on the part of younger, less familial, and more professional households, together with shifts in the housing stock away from family housing, was critical.

The discussion of minorities raises the interesting question of changing diversity, Diversity is usually measured as the degree to which the shares of major racial and ethnic groups are equal. So maximum diversity for six groups (blacks, Native Americans, Asians, Latinos, whites, and those of two or more races) would be .167, if each group were one-sixth. An area 100 percent of one race would have zero diversity or a index of 1.

The 2010 census may surprise the reader. Seattle has long been the most or among the few most diverse places in the state and many people probably believe it still is. But, according to the 2010 census, Seattle has been displaced by dozens of places! It has become slightly more diverse, but suburban cities, mainly but not only to the south, have become markedly more diverse.

Many folks might also think, well, Eastern Washington, with its increasing Latino population, must be highly diverse. But, no, the hotbed of diversity is from the southern part of Seattle, through south King County, to and beyond Tacoma. Table 1 lists the most diverse places.

The top six places are a cluster just beyond the city of Seattle, and their diversity is amazingly high. Many, even most of south King County cities are highly diverse. In Snohomish County, the Lynwood area ranks high, and to the east Bellevue and Redmond are moderately diverse. In Pierce County a belt of high diversity extends from Fife and the Puyallup reservation across south Tacoma to Lakewood, Parkland, Spanaway, and Joint Base Lewis-McChord. This is truly a remarkable transformation.


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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.