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Seattle Times news librarian Gene Balk crunches the numbers

May 6, 2014 at 3:01 PM

5 areas where the working poor, well-paid techies live side-by-side

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

Restaurant employees and high-tech workers may not seem to have a lot in common, but in recent months, each has become linked to a headline-grabbing issue in Seattle.

Food-service workers played a key role in bringing early attention to the $15 minimum-wage issue last year when they participated in a series of strikes. Since then, restaurant employees, more than any other low-paid workers, have been at the forefront of our heated minimum-wage debate.

Tech workers have taken center stage in another ongoing local controversy: gentrification.

Flooding into town for high-paying jobs at Amazon and elsewhere, tech workers have sometimes been blamed for the escalating rents that are pushing locals out of their neighborhoods. Recently, anti-gentrification protesters blocked shuttles that transport Microsoft employees from Capitol Hill to the Redmond campus.

Both issues — the minimum wage and gentrification — are linked to Seattle’s increasingly unaffordable cost-of-living. But while food-service and tech workers may often be on opposite ends of the pay scale, it turns out many of them are living cheek by jowl in the same central Seattle neighborhoods.

The accompanying census-tract map of Seattle highlights areas with the highest concentrations of residents who work in food preparation and service (shown in blue) or computer-related fields (shown in green).

But in the red section, the two groups overlap. In four contiguous census tracts — covering South Lake Union and the Denny Triangle, and including parts of Capitol Hill, First Hill, and Belltown — more than 10 percent of working-age residents are employed in food-service and more than 10 percent work in tech. The same is true for the area around Judkins Park, southeast of downtown.

These transit-friendly, close-in urban neighborhoods appeal to many younger people who move here for tech jobs. And while the newer arrivals have injected affluence into these less-wealthy areas, many lower-income residents remain.

Data reveal the disparity: More than two of five households in the overlap areas earn less than $30,000 per year, while nearly a quarter now have incomes exceeding $75,000. And the number of households in that higher-income group is projected to increase by 40 percent over the next five years, according to Experian data.

Will the anticipated bump in minimum wage help food-service workers hang on in these Seattle neighborhoods against the tide of rising rents? And under Mayor Ed Murray’s minimum-wage plan, will it come fast enough?

We’ll revisit the issue when we have new data, so stay tuned to this space.

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