At a Feb. 10 study session, the Bellevue City Council received a report from community development highlighting recent demographic changes in the city.
The presentation focused on community income inequality, key residential characteristics and economic development. The findings were followed with a 2020 Census update.
The Census has taken place across the U.S. every 10 years since 1790. It helps determine how much federal funding needs to be allotted to a given community every year and how many Congressional seats a state gets.
“As you probably know, a complete count is very important to the city not only because of the dollars that we get and the representation in Congress, but also [because] much of the data that I’m going to be presenting tonight is linked to the Census count,” demographer Katherine Nesse, who spoke at the meeting, said ahead of the presentation. “So if we have an accurate Census count, then we have a way of making sure that the rest of the data is accurate as well.”
There was no council decision at the end of the presentation, though councilmembers did give feedback regarding the demographic findings and Census work.
In the presentation, it was noted that while the U.S. population increased some 6% between 2010 and 2018, Bellevue grew at about twice that rate. Of all metropolitan regions in the country, the Puget Sound area received the ninth most new residents during that time frame.
In Bellevue specifically, it was found that while there was substantial occupational growth, housing opportunities did not line up.
Jobs increased by 18% while the population grew by 14%. According to Nesse, the city is somewhat ahead of the job target set in the 2015 comprehensive plan but is somewhat behind where the housing target was set.
“Individually, these differences are manageable,” Nesse said. “But taken together, this means that the city is causing more workers to live further away from the jobs in Bellevue.”
Nesse added, “We want to have a good mix of jobs and housing in the city. And not fulfilling the number of housing units that we wanted to have in the city means that we’re sort of not even maintaining the status quo but actually exacerbating the issues.”
She also noted that many Bellevue residents are capable of working but are not able to due to issues related to immigration.
“There is a lot of untapped human capital in the city that can’t be employed in the formal economy,” Nesse said.
It was also found that the chasm in Bellevue between the average household income for the top and bottom 20% widened. Between 2010 and 2018, there was a 28% growth in the gap, which lines up with a prevailing trend in the region.
“What’s really driving income inequality is that the top 20% are increasing at a much, much faster rate than the bottom 20%,” Nesse said.
In Bellevue, according to research findings, 45% of households with a total income less than full-time minimum wage support more than one person. A household with an income at full-time minimum wage will be cost-burdened by a $700 per month rent. The median household in Bellevue has gone from $80,500 to $113,700 per year.
Regarding residential character, there has been a 34% increase in small homes, with a 2% decrease in family-size homes and a 27% increase in “very large” homes. The implications, according to Nesse, are that housing is being lost for young families and that neighborhoods are evolving within the development limits set by the city.
“I want to emphasize, however, that this is not uniform across Bellevue,” Nesse said. “The neighborhoods are very different and the type of growth, type of housing change that they are experiencing… depending on where people live in Bellevue, they are going to have a different perspective on what type of change is happening.”
After Nesse’s demographic update, senior planner Gwen Rousseau talked about the 2020 Census. From April 8-16, Rousseau noted, the Census Bureau will be mailing out reminder letters to residents with paper questionnaires to households in the city that have not yet responded to outreach efforts. Between May and the end of July, Census enumerators will be going door to door to get information from households who haven’t responded to outreach.
“I will admit that frankly, I am concerned because this decade is different,” Rousseau said of the 2020 Census. “There is a lot of confusion about the Census and concern over participation. What I’m noticing is that even people who have lived here their whole lives have sometimes forgotten about what the Census is and they don’t really remember filling it out.”
She noted that outreach efforts have been challenged by the fact that since 2010 there has been a 17% increase in the city’s population of those who are moving to the U.S. for the first time. Many new residents, Rousseau said, have never experienced a census, with about 34,000 residents are not U.S. citizens.
That has led to many community members being unclear about whether they should participate, and what the benefits of participating are.
In 2010, 76% of Bellevue residents self-responded to the Census — a number, Rousseau emphasized, is technically “passing” but is still a C grade.
“This time I would like to challenge us to ace the Census,” she said.
For the 2020 Census, the city of Bellevue is collaborating with several community groups to get Census information spread, including the Eastside Refugee and Immigrant Coalition (ERIC), the Chinese Information Service Center (CISC) and the Indian Association of Western Washington (IAWW).
“It’s important to make sure that everyone knows that they need to participate,” Rousseau said. “It takes only 10 minutes to answer — 10 minutes to last 10 years. It will shape our investments in our community for that long.”
In their feedback, the council supported the importance of Census education, and in regard to demographic findings, particularly focused on limitations imposed by immigration as well as housing inequality.
Councilmember Jeremy Barksdale voiced an interest in seeing more detail on what contributes to income inequality in Bellevue, and what the city could do to address the problem. Deputy Mayor Jared Nieuwenhuis expressed a desire to see more of a neighborhood breakdown in demographic research.
Councilmember Conrad Lee, who has been involved in the 2020 Census outreach efforts, drove home the idea that everyone in the community must be engaged.
“It takes a community effort to make this work,” Lee said, adding, “It’s awareness. It’s education. It’s helping.”
For the full conversation, watch the Feb. 10 meeting recording online https://bit.ly/37EmIEw. For more background, go to the meeting agenda item online at https://bit.ly/37Hh9Fw.