Wednesday, December 2, 2020
Dec. 2, 2020

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Geek city: 1 in 5 Seattle residents work in STEM fields, top in U.S.


SEATTLE — Seattle didn’t just grow a lot bigger in the previous decade. It also grew a lot geekier.

The number of city residents who work in science, technology, engineering and math professions — better known as STEM — grew at a remarkably fast rate over the course of the 2010s.

To be sure, even at the beginning of the past decade, Seattle was already pretty geeky. In 2010, there were roughly 37,800 city residents working in STEM occupations, according to census data. At the time, they made up nearly 11% of the employed population of Seattle.

The new census data shows that the number of Seattleites employed in STEM fields has more than doubled, hitting almost 89,700 in 2019. STEM workers now make up a remarkable 19% of the about 470,000 employed Seattle residents.

That figure of 89,700 only includes folks who are directly employed in a STEM field, which includes all the computer occupations, mathematical sciences, engineering and architecture, life sciences and physical sciences.

Not included in that figure are folks in STEM-adjacent fields — for example, managers of STEM workers, STEM-related salespeople, or college professors and other instructors who teach STEM subjects. The census data isn’t detailed enough to allow for a count of those workers.

With the spike in the number of city residents working in STEM fields, it seems that Seattle has even outgeeked Silicon Valley.

Of the 98 U.S. cities for which the Census Bureau tabulated detailed 2019 occupational data, Seattle ranks No. 1 for the percentage of residents working in STEM fields. San Jose, California, is just a bit behind us, with 17.5% of employed city residents working in STEM occupations. San Francisco ranks third, at 14.9%.

At the other end of the spectrum, at 2.1%, is Paradise, Nevada — did you know the famous Las Vegas “Strip” is actually located in Paradise? Not surprisingly, casinos employ very few STEM workers. El Paso, Texas, and Toledo, Ohio, round out the bottom three, in that order.

Nationally, about 9.6 million Americans worked in STEM fields in 2019. That represents 6% of the total civilian workforce, age 16 and older. So Seattle’s percentage of STEM workers is more than three times higher than the national figure.

Another way in which Seattle stands out is in the dominance of software developers among STEM workers. There are more than 43,000 software developers living in Seattle, making up nearly half (48%) of all STEM workers.

That’s a remarkably large number of software developers. In fact, there is only one city that has more. New York, the nation’s largest city, has close to 58,000 software developers. But then again, the total number of employed residents of the Big Apple is nearly nine times larger than that of Seattle.

Engineers are the second largest group of STEM workers living in Seattle, but at almost 14,000 strong, they are a distant second to software developers.

It’s no secret that there’s a large gender gap in most STEM fields, and that is especially true of tech. Overall, 74% of STEM workers who live in Seattle are male. Among software developers/programmers, 83% are male, and among engineers, 82% are male.

Because of the size and economic importance of STEM fields, there has been a great deal of attention paid to the gender gap, and strategies for narrowing it. As the new data shows, these efforts haven’t had a huge effect.

That said, STEM is hardly alone in its gender imbalance. In fact, occupations that are split close to 50/50 between men and women are pretty rare. For example, the data shows that, among Seattle residents, 95% who work in construction are male, as are 79% in law enforcement. On the other hand, about 89% of city residents who work as human resources managers are female, as are 81% of registered nurses.

Among the STEM occupations, there is one exception to the gender gap: The majority of Seattle residents who are life and physical scientists or technicians are female.

STEM jobs tend to be well-compensated, and their preponderance in Seattle helps to explain the city’s ever-increasing affluence. As I reported recently, the median household income jumped by $9,000 in 2019 to hit $102,500.

The census data shows that the median full-time earnings for someone in Seattle who works in computer, engineering or science occupations was $121,000 in 2019. And for computer/mathematical fields specifically, the median was $132,000.