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FYI Guy

Seattle Times news librarian Gene Balk crunches the numbers

October 27, 2014 at 6:00 AM

Seattle is getting whiter, census finds

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I know what you’re thinking: “How could Seattle get any whiter?”

Sarcasm aside, you do have a point. Seattle is very white for a large U.S. city — whiter even than Salt Lake City, believe it or not. (Tuck that fact away. It might win you some bar bets).

And yet, not only could Seattle get whiter. According to new Census Bureau data, it did.

In 2013, 67 percent of the city’s population was non-Hispanic white — that’s up from 65.2 percent the previous year. The uptick means Seattle is now whiter than it was back in 2010.

This represents an unexpected reversal. The city, like the nation as a whole, had actually been getting less white in recent years. With each release of annual census data, the share of Seattle’s population that is white shrunk a little bit — until now, that is.

Diana Canzoneri, demographer and senior policy analyst at the Seattle Planning Commission, finds the new data surprising, but also cautions: “It will be important to keep an eye on these numbers to see if they signal a real trend” and not just a one-year aberration.

Canzoneri is right — one year isn’t a trend. But what the data show is still remarkable: Seattle experienced a miniboom in its white population last year, adding more than 23,000 people. That bumped up the total number of whites to 437,000 — a 6 percent increase from the year before.

Meanwhile, other groups — Asians, blacks, Latinos and Native Americans — were either stable in number, or showed slight declines.

The only group other than whites to increase was multiracial people, who now account for a substantial 5.4 percent of the city’s population.

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Seattle’s “whitening” doesn’t buck just the national trend. It also runs counter to what’s happening in King County as a whole. Outside of Seattle, the county’s white population decreased by 13,500, and now stands at 61.1 percent of the total — a drop of nearly two percentage points in one year.

So what’s behind the rise in Seattle’s white population? Frankly, your guess is as good as mine.

For the record, the new census numbers don’t affect Seattle’s standing as the nation’s fifth-whitest big city, a position it has held for the past several years. But Seattle did inch closer to the No. 4 spot, currently held by Louisville, Ky.

Regardless, Seattle is still more diverse than America’s whitest big city, which is — you guessed it — our pop-culture punchline of a neighbor: Portland.

Comments | More in Demographics, Government Data | Topics: race, Race and Ethnicity, Seattle

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