Immigration and Ethnicity


While Seattle is predominantly White, its immigrant community is diverse and sizable. In fact, according to data from Seattle Public Schools5—the largest public school district in Washington—more than 150 languages are spoken by families throughout the district. In terms of size, nearly a fifth (18%) of Seattle’s population is made up by immigrants, with Asian immigrants representing the largest group and Latinx and African immigrants trailing. And except for Latinx immigrants, all ethnic groups have higher rates of immigration into Seattle than national rates.

In total, the Asian community in Seattle accounts for about 15% of the population and are the fastest growing ethnic group in the city. Seattle also has a vibrant Somali, Ethiopian and Eritrean community. In the 1970s, the Somali population began as a small group of college students and engineers. Since then, the population has grown as thousands of Somalis came to Seattle and King County as refugees.

Immigrants in Seattle work in a wide array of fields, from the tech industry, to health care, to the service sector.6 In fact, immigrants play a large role in the booming economy Seattle touts. In 2017, almost nine percent of all immigrants in Seattle were
entrepreneurs (about 54,318 people), making them about 36.8% more likely to be entrepreneurs than U.S.-born citizens.7 Additionally, immigrants in Seattle occupy an interesting position in the labor force: they tend to be more represented in populations with college degrees, compared to their U.S.-born counterparts, but they are also highly represented in communities with less than a high school education.

Fueled by an immigration system that favors highly educated and marketable immigrants— many have jobs waiting for them in the area’s dominant sectors—this duality has not only led these communities to fill job vacancies on both ends of the skills spectrum,8 but it also perpetuates the harmful “model minority” myth. While this
misconception is harmful to all communities of color—particularly those born in the US, it is particularly so for low-income Asian communities, whose different social and economic circumstances are often overlooked because of aggregated data that paints the community as homogenous and universally successful.

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