–The Puget Sound region has become more ethnically diverse in recent decades
-Changes in immigration policy may slow this process down
–In King County this increase in diversity has taken place almost entirely in the suburbs to the East and South
–More diverse populations skew to the younger side, so the population will become more diverse in future years.
The Indexer has covered the changing demographics of the Puget Sound region in a number of ways. One of the most striking changes that has occurred over the past several decades is the increase in ethnic diversity across the region, especially in suburban cities of King County. These changes have come about mostly as a result of open immigration policies and the region’s historic ties to Asia. New concerns about international travel and immigration, resulting from the coronavirus, will likely slow these change in the near, and perhaps medium term.
Increasing diversity region-wide
As with the rest of the U.S., the portion of the population of the Seattle Metro Area that identifies as white has been shrinking. Figure 1 shows the basic ethnic makeup of the three counties in 1990 and 2018 (The Census Bureau considers Hispanic to be an ethnicity, distinct from racial categories). All three counties have seen a reduction in the share of those identifying as white, with King County seeing the largest reduction.
At the same time, the Black population of the region has increased slightly from 4.8 to 6 percent. The portion of the population identifying as Asian has more than doubled to nearly 15 percent across the three counties and over 18 percent in King County.
Diversity in King County suburbs
In King County the shift in ethnicity has taken place almost entirely outside of Seattle. From 1990 to 2018, when the countywide non-white population increased by 15 percent, the non-white population of Seattle increased less than 2 percent. Figure 2 shows the increase in the population identifying as other than white for the larger cities in King County. Less than 60 percent of the populations of Renton, Kent, Bellevue and Federal Way now identify as white.
Figure 3 shows the non-white makeup of King County, broken down by the Census Bureau’s Public Use Microdata Areas that include cities and adjacent unincorporated areas. Again, it is clear that non-white populations have concentrated in the suburbs to the south and east of Seattle. Areas of South Seattle that have long had diverse populations retain that diversity, but are no longer the most diverse places in the county.
This shift is remarkable, considering that in 1990, Seattle had by far the largest non-white share of its population. Now, Seattle, especially north of Madison Street, is whiter than most of the large suburban cities.
Increasing diversity of younger residents
The increased diversity of the region is primarily a result of in-migration of people of varying ethnicity. And migrants are mostly young and quite often single and/or childless. Hence, the growth in minority populations at the lower end of the age spectrum. Figure 4 shows the share of each age group in the county that identifies as an ethnicity other than white. The 45 percent of children under 15 reported as non-white is consistent with school district data showing that 53 percent of children enrolled in public school districts in King County identified as non-white.
The non-white population of King County has expanded significantly in recent decades due to foreign in-migration. Higher paid foreign in-migrants, mostly recruited to technology firms, have settled in the Eastside suburbs, while less well paid foreign in-migrants have settled in large numbers in South King County cities.
Questions going forward are:
- Will immigration restrictions imposed following the coronavirus crisis slow the growth of immigrant, non-white populations?
- Will local institutions be equipped to adapt to the needs of immigrant and minority populations?
- Will gentrification, high costs and a reputation for troubled schools make Seattle a less attractive destination for foreign in-migrants?